June 27, 2013
Cambodian Tailorbird: New Species Discovered in Crowded Phnom Penh

The Cambodian tailorbird singing in that photograph is a member of a new species just discovered in the Asian nation of Cambodia -- and a dazzling reminder that new discoveries are waiting to be made in the most unexpected places.

On Tuesday, the Oriental Bird Club journal Forktail published a description of the newly discovered Cambodian tailorbird under the title, "Hiding in Plain Sight." The dapper songbird that will be known to science as Orthotomus chaktomuk was found in and around Cambodia's highly urban capital of Phnom Penh, a city of 1.5 million people.

The new species is endemic to Cambodia, which means that it can only be seen in the wild in that country and nowhere else.

The beautiful little bird is a floodplain specialist that lives in dense, humid scrub. Only fragments of that habitat remain, causing the discoverers of the new species to ask that it be rated as "near threatened" on the IUCN's Redlist.

When most of us think of new bird species, we expect to hear of them being discovered in a remote forest in Peru or perhaps along the Amazon basin in South America.

The finders acknowledged that it's very rare to discover a new species within crowded city limits. However, Oriental Bird Club council member Richard Thomas told the BBC that he saw the Cambodian tailorbird himself on a road construction site.

One of the discoverers, Wildlife Conservation Society's Simon Mahood expressed his excitement at the happy surprise:

"The modern discovery of an un-described bird species within the limits of a large populous city - not to mention 30 minutes from my home - is extraordinary. The discovery indicates that new species of birds may still be found in familiar and unexpected locations."

Birders who visit Cambodia now have a new endemic species to look for -- the Cambodian tailorbird.

[Cambodian tailorbird photo courtesy James Eaton/Birdtour Asia]