Tiny songbird with an unusually long bill discovered on remote island

A tiny songbird with an unusually long bill has been discovered on a remote Indonesian island.

The striking brown and yellow bird is just four inches long including a half an inch beak and tips the scales at a quarter of an ounce – less than two teaspoons of sugar.

It has a wingspan of six inches and a one and a half inch tail.

The new species lives on Rote – a gem of pristine beaches, rolling hills, savannah, and forests that has remained hidden from the tourist trail.

Despite its beauty few travellers make it there, explaining how the bizarre creature has evaded science – until now.

It is the second new bird found there in the last year.

The famous reef breaks attract a steady stream of surfers, mostly Australian, who often return year after year – but it is far from the backpacking trail.

The tiny bird uses it long beak to dig up bugs and has been named the Rote Leaf-Warbler Phylloscopus rotiensis.

Team member Dr Nathaniel Ng, a biologist at the National University of Singapore (NUS), said: “The new species is part of a large group of Asian warblers but is unique among them due to its unusually long bill – about 0.6 inches – much bigger than its relatives.

“There are many species of leaf warbler in Europe and Asia. But this species is found nowhere else in the world.

“This odd bill shape is likely an adaptation to Rote’s dry landscapes, given that most other Asian leaf-warblers live in humid forest.”

Leaf warblers are tiny insect eaters and are constantly on the move. They live in the tree canopy.

Rote Island is a dry monsoon island with an area of 750 square miles in eastern Indonesia.

It is around 7.5 miles off the coast of Timor, and about 310 miles northwest of Australia.

The island is also the site where the Rote Myzomela Myzomela irianawidodoae was discovered in 2017.

The presence of a leaf-warbler of unknown identity on Rote was first noted in December 2004.

Five years later two Belgian birdwatchers made detailed observations and obtained a series of photographs of the bird.

Alarm bells went off when they realised how strikingly different the bill shape and the colouration of the Rote bird were compared to all other leaf-warblers.

The study published in Scientific Reports was partly aided by comparisons using state of the art genetic sequencing techniques.

Miss Elize Ng, a researcher with the Avian Evolution Lab (AEL) at NUS, said: “This may well be the first time – to the best of our knowledge – that a new bird species has been described partly on the basis of genome-wide DNA data.”

Each year, about five to 10 new bird species are described worldwide.

The fact that this bird is the second novel species described from Rote in the last 12 months highlights the island’s conservation value.

Rote’s natural landscapes are under grave threat, with a burgeoning human population exerting ever-increasing pressures on its monsoon woodland and savannah.

These factors prompted the research team to propose the bird to be formally classified by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as vulnerable.

 

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