New Flightless Bird Species Found Off Philippines
Mon Aug 16, 8:02 PM ET
By Ed Stoddard
JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Scientists have discovered a new species of
flightless bird on a remote island in the Philippines, the
conservation group BirdLife International said on Tuesday.
The rare find is dramatic as flightless birds on small islands are
especially vulnerable to extinction from human activities.
Many of the island species that have been categorized by science were
long gone when biologists unearthed their bones.
BirdLife International said the proposed name for the bird is the
Calayan rail with the scientific name Gallirallus calayanensis. The
bird, about the size of a crow, was found on the island of Calayan in
the northern Philippines about 40 miles off the coast.
"The Calayan rail is a relative of the internationally familiar
moorhen, with bright red beak and legs contrasting sharply with its
dark plumage," BirdLife said in a statement.
"But unlike its familiar relative, the Calayan rail is flightless, or
nearly so, and found only on the small island after which it is
One or two new bird species are uncovered each year but this rail's
flightless nature and unexplored location make it especially
"This is exceptional because it is flightless and no ornithologist
had explored the island since 1903," Dr. Richard Thomas of BirdLife
told Reuters by telephone from the group's British headquarters.
Genevieve Broad, a biologist and one of the co-leaders of the
Filipino-British expedition, said isolation had protected the species
from human encroachment.
"The island is 186 sq km and has only 8,500 people who are
concentrated in one town in the south. There are few people in the
middle of the island (where the birds are found) because there aren't
any roads," she told Reuters.
Isolation has also proved disastrous for flightless birds in the
past. Many that evolved on remote islands with no predators have
become what biologists term "ecologically naive" -- meaning they do
not recognize danger from other animals.
So when humans first arrived on small islands in the past, they found
the flightless birds to be easy sources of protein and often wiped
them out -- with the dodo of the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius
being the most famous.
Most of the 22 species of rail which have become extinct since 1600
were flightless. Eighteen of the 20 living species of flightless rail
are considered to be threatened.