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Bird’s Unusual Song Leads Scientists to Discover New Species

  • Himalayan forest thrush is discovered along India and China border by international team of scientists
  • Thrush is only fourth new bird species described from India since independence in 1947
  • Species is closely related to plain-backed thrush

AUDIO: To hear the songs of the Himalayan thrush and alpine thrush, click here


1. Himalayan Forest Thrush Zoothera salimalii, Dulongjiang, Yunnan province, China, June 2014. CREDIT: Craig Brelsford (www. www.shanghaibirding.com)

2. Co-author Shashank Dalvi looking for thrushes 4200 m, Sela Pass, West Kameng, India, June 2009. CREDIT: Per Alström

Link to study

NEW YORK (January 21, 2016) – WCS reports that a bird’s unusual, melodic song led an international team of scientists to discover an entirely new species in northeastern India and adjacent parts of China.

The bird, called the Himalayan forest thrush Zoothera salimalii, is similar in appearance to the raspy singing plain-backed thrush Zoothera mollissima.  But the Himalayan thrush’s singing prowess, combined with its penchant for dense coniferous forests with good undergrowth were clues that the species may be unique. Additional DNA work concluded that the two species were in fact different. The plain-backed thrush has now been re-named the alpine thrush.

“To an ornithologist, the Himalayan forest thrush sounds like Adele, while the alpine thrush sounds more like Rod Stewart,” said WCS associate Shashank Dalvi.

The new species is described in the journal Avian Research. Authors include Dr. Per Alstrom, Dr. Pamela Rasmussen, Chao Zhao, Jinzi Xu, Shashank Dalvi, Tianlong Cai, Yuyan Guan, Dr. Ruying Zhang, Mikhail Kalyakin, Dr. Fumin Lei and Dr. Urban Olsson.

The bird’s scientific name honors the great Indian ornithologist Dr Sálim Ali (1896–1987), in recognition of his huge contributions to the development of Indian ornithology and wildlife conservation.  This is the first Indian bird that has been named after Dr. Salim Ali.

Further analyses of plumage, structure, song, DNA and ecology from throughout the range of the plain-backed thrush revealed that a third species was present in central China – the Sichuan forest thrush.

DNA analyses suggested that these three species have been genetically separated for several million years. Genetic data from three old museum specimens indicated the presence of a fourth species from China that remains unnamed. Future field studies are required to confirm this.

The Himalayan forest thrush is locally common. It has been overlooked until now because of its close similarity in appearance to the Alpine Thrush.

New bird species are rarely discovered nowadays. Since 2000, an average of five new species per year have been discovered globally, most of which are from South America. The Himalayan Forest Thrush is only the fourth new bird species described from India since its independence in 1947.


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