January 29, 2009

New Bird Species Found In Southwest China

A new fist-sized, babbler bird species has been discovered in a series of underground caves in China, elevating the hope that the country could find other new discoveries, a conservation group announced on Thursday.

Ornithologists Zhou Fang and Jiang Aiwu first saw the bird, dark with white spots on its breast, in 2005 and has since then established its identity as an unknown species. They labeled it the Nonggang babbler, scientific name Stachyris nonggangensis, named for the region of China where the bird was found.

An official account was released last year in The Auk, the quarterly journal of the American Ornithologists' Union.

"This is exciting evidence that there could be many more interesting discoveries awaiting ornithologists in China," said Birdlife International's Nigel Collar, who announced the find.

This species looks like a wren-babbler, or genus Napothera, because it favors running over flying, and spends the majority of its time on the ground hunting for insects, Zhou stated. So far, 100 Nonggang babblers have been found thus far in the Nonggang Natural Reserve in the southwestern China area.

A comparable habitat subsists on the border of northern Vietnam and southeast Yunnan, China, and the new species may also be located around that area as well, Zhou noted.

"I'm very pleased to be able to make some contribution to the ornithology research by discovering Stachyris nonggangensis," Zhou said in a statement. "The discovery shows that there are still some birds that haven't been (identified) yet in China, such a vast territory that is rich in biodiversity."

Xi Zhinong, the creator of conservation group Wild China, said he was "very glad, excited and surprised" when he first heard about a new species of bird.

Xi said discoveries like Zhou's and Jiang's could become even more widespread in China as professionals continue the hunt for other new species.

"In recent years, more and more bird lovers and photographers are participating in the research of wild birds," Xi said. "Without a doubt, the participation of those nonprofessionals has pushed forward the research of wildlife in China."

However, Zhou advised that the country's speedy development and deteriorating pollution problems may hurt biologically rich regions like the karst - an arrangement of limestone sinkholes - before other discoveries are completed.

"The fragility of the karst ecosystem and its destruction by people pose great threats to the bird's existence," he said. "Research and conservation of the birds in this habitat is very urgent."


Image Caption: Nonggang Babbler is found only in southwestern Guangxi province, part of the south-east Chinese Mountains Endemic Bird Area. Credit: James Eaton; Birdtour Asia


On the Net: