Sunday, June 09, 2013

Bonanza of Bird Species

Brazil has a lot of birds. It has, in fact, a lot more than we knew of just five years ago.  In that short time, no fewer than fifteen new species have been described.  One of the most interesting is the crooked-beaked woodcreeper, known locally as Arapaçu-de-bico-torto, a rusty-colored bird with a comically long, drooping bill.  All fifteen species (sorry this last link is in Portugese, but it does have photos and maps) have ranges that overlap at least partially with the "deforestation arc," a range across Brazil, Peru, and Bolivia conservationists consider highly threatened. Many of these had not been described because their appearance is similar to known birds.  Ornithologist Luis Silveira explains, “Describing new species is not a trivial task. We considered a bird as a new species when at least two of the three criteria — plumage, voice, and genetics — were consistently different from some previously known and closely related, already described species.”  I remember writing about this Brazilian find - another bird found and essentially declared endangered in the same breath.  I described others in my 2006 book Shadows of Existence. In the 1970s (sorry I don't have the reference at hand), a prominent ornithologist said he thought we had almost all of the world's bird species in hand. But two to three a year have turned up steadily ever since.  There are still more out there - if we can preserve the lands they live in. 

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