New songbird found in Laos

A new species of bird with a featherless pink face has been discovered and photographed in a remote part of Southeast Asia.

A new species of bird with a featherless pink face has been discovered and photographed in a remote part of Southeast Asia.

The bare-faced bulbul is a thrush-sized, olive green bird with a light-coloured breast and a bald, pink face. It lives in the trees of a sparse forest among limestone mountains called karsts in Laos.

It is described in the 2009 issue of Forktail, the journal of the U.K.-based Oriental Bird Club, by the scientists who discovered it, Will Duckworth and Rob Timmins of the New York-based Wildlife Conservation Society and the Iain Woxvold of the University of Melbourne.

Bulbuls are a family of about 130 species of songbirds found in Asia, and the bare-faced bulbul is the first new one in more than a century, the society reported.

The researchers were in the bird's habitat, an area not often visited by humans, as part of project funded by the Australian mining company MMG (Minerals and Metals Group), which operates the Sepon copper and gold mine in the region.

Peter Clyne, assistant director for Wildlife Conservation Society's Asia program, was involved in the decision to survey the area over about two or three weeks in November and December 2008.

"I kind of knew that this area was going to be interesting biologically and that surveys would presumably reveal something interesting, but we had no idea it was going to be a new bird," he said Thursday. "As a person who's incredibly enthusiastic about birds, I'm quite excited about this."

Timmins first thought he glimpsed a new bird species in the area in 1995, but wasn't sure, the paper reported.

However, in the recent expedition, similar birds were seen in two limestone karst areas quite far from one another, Clyne said, adding that it's not clear how common the birds are.

The research observed pairs of birds eating berries and flitting among the trees. They took photographs, recorded the birds' calls, and captured some and took blood samples, they reported. A couple of specimens were brought back to the Natural History Museum in Tring, U.K., and the Australian National Wildlife Collection in Canberra, Australia, but Clyne did not know if they are on display.

Over the past decade, Timmins had also found a new species of rodent and a striped rabbit in the same area, the release said.

The area where the bird appears to live is officially protected, but could be threatened by limestone quarrying and habitat conversion, the Wildlife Conservation Society warned.