Owl species adds to body of wisdom

An undated photo of Rinjani Scops owl released by online scientific journal PLOS ONE   | Photo Credit: Philippe Verbelen

Researchers looking for a nocturnal bird in Indonesia accidentally identified a species of owl in Lombak Island — one that has a distinct song and is believed to exist nowhere else in the world.

First identified in 2003 and has since spotted only on the Island, about 25 km from the popular resort island of Bali, the Rinjani Scops owl, with brown and white feathers and big golden eyes, had been confused with a similar-looking species for more than a century.

But scientists from Sweden and the U.S. noticed that its whistled note was entirely different from other songs, including that of the widespread Moluccan Scops owl(Otus magicus).

“I am surprised that the true identity of this bird has remained hidden from the scientific world for so long,” said George Sangster, lead author from the Swedish Museum of Natural History, said in an email. “The Rihnjani Scops owl is quite common and can be found on various parts of the island. It is also very vocal, so it is hard to miss.”

The researchers reviewed all previous work and museum specimens dating to 1896. They found a report mentioning the Rinjani Scops owl’s tone, which differs from the barking cry of the Moluccan Scops owl. However, plumage, size and shape were primarily used to identify species until the late 1970s when vocalisations were added. Said George Sangster, lead author from the Swedish Museum of Natural History: “Ornithologists have long patted themselves on the back, believing that the taxonomy of birds is ‘almost complete’.

With each discovery, this becomes less credible.

It underscores that even after 150 years of scientific study we still do not know all the birds in the Indo-Malayan region.”

Mr. Sangster said more investigation is need to completely rule out the bird’s existence in extreme western Sumbawa, a neighbouring island.

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2021 8:27:29 PM |

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