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New Bird Species Discovered in Hawaii

New Bird Species Discovered in Hawaii

For the first time since 1974, ornithologists have discovered a new bird species in the United States. The small Hawaiian seabird, thought to be an undersized Boyd’s shearwater, proved to have enough unique genetic traits to separate it from the other species. Researchers and avian enthusiasts are thrilled by the discovery.

“It’s very unusual to discover a new species of bird these days and especially gratifying when DNA can confirm our original hypothesis that the animal is unique,” Rob Fleischer, of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, said in a press release. “This bird is unique, both genetically and in appearance, and represents a novel, albeit very rare, species.”

Ornithologist Peter Pyle found the new species in a stuffed collection while conducting research in Honolulu’s B.P. Bishop Museum. The specimen had been collected during the Pacific Ocean Biological Survey Program in 1963, tagged as a little Boyd’s shearwater and set aside until it attracted Pyle’s attention. Pyle noticed that the preserved specimen had unusually small wings and short tail feathers. His observations led to the subsequent genetic analysis.

Dubbed Bryan’s shearwater (Puffinus bryani) after the museum’s curator, the bird is black and white with a black or dark blue-gray bill and blue-gray legs. DNA evidence suggests that Bryan’s shearwater may have branched off from other species of shearwaters as far back as 2 million years ago. However, little else is currently known about the petite seabird because scientists have yet to encounter a live specimen.

Unfortunately, this means that the new species may be very rare or even extinct, but experts are optimistic. According to Pyle, other varieties of shearwaters are known to be fairly elusive and scientists can’t predict where they breed. Individual seabirds have also been known to fly great distances from their existing colonies to “scout” for new breeding ground. Since no one has been looking for Bryan’s shearwater until now, the species could be living almost anywhere in the Pacific Ocean basin.

Wired Science reports that a second specimen may have been tagged and recorded on Midway in 1990, and sightings of small, unidentified seabirds have been periodically reported from California, Japan and the southern Gulf of Alaska. Hopefully, the official declaration of this new species will increase vigilance among coastal birdwatchers. For now, Bryan’s shearwater remains a small, winged mystery.

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Image credit: Lovelorn Poets (Creative Commons)

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111 comments

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3:31PM PST on Feb 10, 2012

Cool, thank you.

1:20PM PDT on Oct 1, 2011

This is a great story and thank you to all the people involved. Uplifting!

8:02PM PDT on Sep 7, 2011

That is a wonderful news! I am very fond of birds. Awesome!

12:34PM PDT on Sep 1, 2011

=) New species are always so exciting, just conceptually. I'm glad to see that there are people checking the records twice, with their eyes wide open.

10:49AM PDT on Sep 1, 2011

Bryans Shearwater, Ivory Billed Woodpecker, passenger pigeons. I surely do hope that they find somewhere, more of the shearwaters, and more than one of the ivory billed woodpeckers, I mean even one. But then that would represent a much greater tragedy, since the GOP wants to eradicate the EPA's ability to implement environmental safeguards.

6:52PM PDT on Aug 31, 2011

this news is very uplifting!
Thanks

6:30PM PDT on Aug 31, 2011

So glad to hear about this HAPPY NEWS!!!!!!!!!!!!!~Thank YOU!!!!!!!~

3:30PM PDT on Aug 31, 2011

Koo, I agree, I'm hoping too. Wouldn't it be aweful if the stuffed bird was the scout and that's why no living birds are found in Hawaii?

11:14AM PDT on Aug 31, 2011

Thank you, news that brings a smile is very rare in this day.

9:13AM PDT on Aug 31, 2011

thats great news, but how long will it last before they start that off into extinction. MANS GREED

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Colleen H. Colleen H. is an Online Campaigner with Care2 and a recent transplant to San Francisco from the East... more
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