Himalayan Bird Discovered Thanks To Singing Prowess

Scientists working in India are excited by the discovery of a new Himalayan bird.

A team of scientists from Sweden, China, the U.S., India and Russia have explained that they found the new bird by studying the musicality of its song. They have named the Himalayan forest thrush Zoothera salimali on honor of Indian ornithologist Salim Ali, writes Story Hinckley for The Christian Science Monitor.

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New Himalayan bird discovered in northeastern India

In 2009 the team began to suspect that the plain-backed thrush Zoothera mollissima was in fact two different species. The small bird lives in northeastern India.

“What first caught scientists’ attention was the plain-backed thrush in the coniferous and mixed forest had a rather musical song, whereas individuals found in the same area – on bare rocky ground above the treeline – had a much harsher, scratchier, unmusical song,” reads a press release from the authors.

They then studied sound recordings of each Himalayan bird in order to reach their conclusion.

“The song of the Himalayan Forest Thrush sounds much more musical and ‘thrush-like’ than that of the Alpine Thrush,” the scientists write in their paper. “It is built up of a mix of rich, drawn-out clear notes and shorter, thinner ones, with hardly any harsh scratchy notes.”

DNA tests confirm suspicions of scientists

The scientists say that “although their songs are fairly similar, they are audibly different,”  providing further evidence of the existence of two species. Their suspicions were confirmed by testing morphology and DNA sequencing.

“They had – to us – incredibly different songs. We couldn’t at first find any differences in plumage or structure between them,” Alstrom told the BBC.

“At first we had no idea how or whether they differed morphologically,” Pamela Rasmussen, from Michigan State University’s Department of Integrative Biology and author of the study, said in a press release. “We were stunned to find that specimens in museums for over 150 years from the same parts of the Himalayas could readily be divided into two groups based on measurements and plumage.”

Alstrom also found that a sub-species of the Himalayan forest thrush lives in China. It has been named the Sichuan forest thrush.

The Himalayan forest thrush is the fourth new bird species discovered in India since 1947. Around the world an average of only 5 new bird species are discovered per year.