Little robin from Gabon is world's newest species

WASHINGTON Fri Aug 15, 2008 1:10pm EDT

1 of 3. Brian Schmidt, a research ornithologist at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, makes notes of a female specimen of the newly-discovered olive-backed forest robin, in this handout photo.

Credit: Reuters/Carlton Ward/Handout

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A red-breasted bird discovered by accident in the forests of Gabon is a new species, U.S. scientists said on Friday.

They have named the little bird the olive-backed forest robin, or Stiphrornis pyrrholaemus, but say they know little about it yet.

The Smithsonian Institution team found the bird while visiting the forest on a biodiversity project, said Brian Schmidt, a research ornithologist at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.

"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 in a statement.

"Once I was able to compare them side by side to other specimens in our collections, it was clear that these birds were special."

Genetic tests confirmed the bird, which measures 4.5 inches

in length and averages half an ounce (14 grams) in weight, was a unique species.

Writing in the journal Zootaxa, the Smithsonian team said the males have a fiery orange throat and breast, yellow belly, olive back and black feathers on the head. Females are similar, but less vibrant. A distinctive white dot in front of each eye helps distinguish the species.

"Although finding an unknown species like the olive-backed forest robin was not the goal of the ... project, it is definitely a reminder that the world still holds surprises for us," Schmidt said.

(Reporting by Maggie Fox, editing by Will Dunham and Xavier Briand)

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