New Bird Species Discovered in Gabon

Breaking news for birders: Researchers at the Smithsonian Institution have discovered a new species of bird in Gabon, Africa, that was, until now, unknown to science.

The olive-backed forest robin (Stiphrornis pyrrholaemus) measures 4.5 inches in length and averages a little more than half an ounce in weight.


Smithsonian Ornithologist Brian Schmidt with a female specimen of the newly discovered bird.

Image courtesy Carlton Ward/Smithsonian

More details and pictures of both male and female specimens are in the extended entry.

The discovery was published in the international science journal Zootaxa yesterday.

“Males exhibit a fiery orange throat and breast, yellow belly, olive back and black feathers on the head.” the Smithsonian said in a release. “Females are similar, but less vibrant. Both sexes have a distinctive white dot on their face in front of each eye.” 


Male (left) and female specimens of the olive-backed forest robin.

Left Image courtesy Brian Schmidt/Smithsonian; Right image courtesy Carlton Ward/Smithsonian

The bird was first observed by Smithsonian scientists in 2001, but was initially thought to be an immature individual of an already-recognized species.

Schmidt collected several specimens to enter into the Smithsonian museum’s bird collection in Washington, D.C., in 2003. But when he compared them with other forest robins of the genus Stiphrornis in the collection, he noticed differences in color and plumage, and realized the newly collected birds might be unique.

“I suspected something when I found the first bird in Gabon since it didn’t exactly match any of the species descriptions in the field guides,” Schmidt said. “Once I was able to compare them side by side to other specimens in our collections it was clear that these birds were special.”

Geneticists at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo compared the DNA of the new specimens to that of the four known forest robin species. The results confirmed that the birds were a separate and distinct species.

The olive-backed forest robin brings Gabon’s number of known bird species to 753. Other than its existence, however, little is known about the new bird. Diet, mating and nesting habits, and the species’ complete habitat range are all things that still need research.

The Smithsonian’s Monitoring and Assessment of Biodiversity Program in Gabon is assessing the species diversity of the region, conducting applied research on the impact of management and development and providing biodiversity education programs locally to guide the regional conservation strategy. 

“Finding the olive-backed forest robin strongly underscores the importance of our research,”said Alfonso Alonso, director of the program.

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