The latest strange creature to emerge from a rugged region of Laos is a bald songbird, dubbed the “bare-faced bulbul.” Its little-visited habitat, a sparse forest on rugged limestone karsts, is becoming known for unusual wildlife discoveries. Scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) and the University of Melbourne discovered the bird while working on a project funded and managed by the MMG (Minerals and Metals Group) mining company, which operates the Sepon copper and gold project in the region.

The bare-faced bulbul gets its name from the lack of feathers on its face and part of its head. It is the only known bald songbird in mainland Asia, according to scientists, and the first new species of bulbul described on the continent in over 100 years. The bulbul family includes about 130 species.

“It’s always exciting to discover a new species,” said Colin Poole, director of WCS-Asia. “It also underscores how much there is still to learn from wild places around the world.”

The thrush-sized bird is greenish-olive with a light-colored breast and a distinctive featherless, pink face. The bluish skin around its eye extends to the bill, and a narrow line of hair-like feathers runs down the center of its crown. It appears to primarily dwell in trees. A description of the species has been published in the July issue of the Oriental Bird Club’s journal Forktail. Authors include Iain Woxvold of the University of Melbourne, along with WCS researchers Will Duckworth and Rob Timmins.

Woxvold added that the bird’s inhospitable habitat helps explain why, despite its very distinctive call, the bird has remained unnoticed for so long.

Fortunately much of the bird’s presumed habitat falls within legally protected areas in Laos. However, quarrying of limestone looms as a potential threat to wildlife in this area, along with habitat conversion for agriculture.

Read the press release: Bald-Faced Flyer: WCS and University of Melbourne Discover New “Bald” Songbird