It is easy to understand why so many of us are so fond of birds. They are lively; they are lovely; and they are everywhere. They have characters with which we can easily identify - cheeky and shy, gentle and vicious, faithful - and faithless. Many enact the dramas of their lives in full view for all to see. They are part of our world yet, at a clap of our hands, they lift into the air and vanish into their own with a facility that we can only envy. And they are an ever-present link with the natural world that lies beyond our brick walls. It is hardly surprising that human beings have studied birds with a greater dedication and intensity than they have lavished on any other group of animal.
Mute swan (Cygnus olor) cygnets by zoo-logic
These days it is extraordinary to discover even a single species of bird that is new to science, but a recent study has identified not just one, but two new species of owls endemic to the Philippines. The Cebu hawk-owl (Ninox rumseyi) (top) and Camiguin hawk-owl (Ninox leventisi) (bottom) first sparked ideas that they were not simply subspecies of other Ninox hawk-owls found across Asia and Australasia, as was once thought, when researchers heard their highly distinctive calls (both of which can be heard free on AVoCet). Owls do not learn their songs from relatives or other members of their species, but instead they are encoded in their DNA - so researchers were lead to believe that these unique songs must reflect significant genetic differences between the birds in question, suggesting they were separate species. Many years of supporting study have finally culminated in the formal identification of these birds as species new to science. The Camiguin hawk-owl, interestingly, is the first and only owl species known to have blue-grey eyes.
Ref: Cameron L., 2012. Two new owls discovered in the Philippines. Michigan State University News [link]
Grey heron (Ardea cinerea) by zoo-logic