Oriental Bird Club

The Cambodian tailorbird somehow managed to elude detection for years, despite being loud and annoying.

It's heartening that city wildlife is robust enough that researchers are still finding new species lurking about. Recently there was the discovery of that eensy-weensy ant doodling about on Manhattan's traffic medians, and now scientists have spotted a previously unknown "Cambodian tailorbird" living it up in Phnom Penh.

Experts from the Wildlife Conservation Society, BirdLife International and other avian concerns found this fluttering critter in both the Cambodian capital – whose 2.3 million residents must have noticed it before, but perhaps were too polite to point it out to the Western birdwatchers with their nets and binoculars – and in a construction site outside of the city. This type of tailorbird, called Orthotomus chaktomuk, is now the second bird known to live exclusively inside Cambodia, the other being the pleasantly named laughingthrush giggling away in the Cardamom Mountains.

The tailorbird lives in patches of dense scrubland and went unnoticed to ornithologists for decades, despite having a look-at-me! "rufous" head and a twittering screech not unlike a rape whistle. The scientists say that the males produce lengthy ballads that are sometimes more than a minute long and strung with "overslurred" trills, while the females give a "nasal squeak consisting of a single note with harmonics." You can hear a sample of this beautiful music here.

Ornithologists have become quite interested in South Asia, due to the high number of new species popping up there and the high chance that they're endangered or heading there. Here's the Wildlife Conservation Society on the state of the region's birdlife:

The last two decades have seen a sharp increase in the number of new bird species emerging from Indochina, mostly due to exploration of remote areas. Newly described birds include various babbler species from isolated mountains in Vietnam, the bizarre bare-faced bulbul from Lao PDR and the Mekong wagtail, first described in 2001 by WCS and other partners....

Steve Zack, WCS Coordinator of Bird Conservation, said, “Asia contains a spectacular concentration of bird life, but is also under sharply increasing threats ranging from large scale development projects to illegal hunting. Further work is needed to better understand the distribution and ecology of this exciting newly described species to determine its conservation needs.”

Indeed, the scientists are recommending that the tailorbird be put on the "Red List" of threatened species maintained by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. There are more details about this novel animal in the August edition of the Oriental Bird Club's journal, the Forktail, although be warned there are photos of dead birds lined up in sad little arrays.

Top image: Video still from Oriental Bird Club/Forktail

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Transportation

    Why New York City Stopped Building Subways

    Nearly 80 years ago, a construction standstill derailed the subway’s progress, leading to its present crisis. This is the story, decade by decade.

  2. Naked cyclists ride down Lombard Street in San Francisco.
    Environment

    The Weirdest Ways That U.S. Cities Are Celebrating Earth Day

    From group oyster-shell bagging to a naked bike ride, some Earth Day events are more colorful than the standard festivals and tree plantings.

  3. A construction worker inside the 86th Street cavern of the Second Avenue Subway tunnel in 2014
    Transportation

    Why It's So Expensive to Build Urban Rail in the U.S.

    It’s not just the Second Avenue Subway: Nearly all urban rail projects in the U.S. cost much more than their European counterparts.

  4. Atrium of modernist office park.
    Design

    A New Urbanist Developer Gives Saarinen a Reboot

    A suburban megacampus for corporate giant Bell Labs makes way for a more diverse second life.

  5. A sign warns non-resident drivers to avoid using a street in Leonia, New Jersey.
    Transportation

    What Happens When a City Bans Non-Resident Drivers?

    Besieged by commuters taking Waze-powered shortcuts, Leonia, New Jersey, closed its side streets to non-residents. Not everyone is happy with the results.