A species of bird that is completely new to science has been discovered, hiding in plain sight in Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh. The Cambodian tailorbird as it has been named was first spotted in 2009 during routine checks for avian flu. More specimens have since been found in regions around the city and discerned from similar tailorbird species.
Tailorbirds are in the warbler family, and get their name from the meticulous preparation of their nests, weaving leaves together. A detailed set of tests from the birds' plumage to their songs and their genes has shown that O. chaktomuk is in fact a separate, new species. It is exceptionally uncommon for undiscovered bird species to be found in urban contexts, but Oriental Bird Club council member Richard Thomas said that earlier in the year, he "went and saw this remarkable new tailorbird myself, in the middle of a road construction site".
O. chaktomuk inhabits a small area, made up largely of dense scrubland in the floodplain of the Mekong river, at the edge of which Phnom Penh lies. Birdwatchers do not tend to target this kind of ecosystem because most of the species it supports are abundant and widespread elsewhere in Southeast Asia. "The modern discovery of an un-described bird species within the limits of a large populous city, not to mention 30 minutes from my home, is extraordinary," said Simon Mahood of the Wildlife Conservation Society.
"The discovery indicates that new species of birds may still be found in familiar and unexpected locations." Because of the small and shrinking nature of the birds' habitat, the team has recommended that the bird be listed as "Near Threatened" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List.