World Bird News September 2012

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Conservationists recognised in splitting of Philippine Hawk-owl complex

Since 1945, Philippine Hawk-owl has been treated as a single species, Ninox philippensis, with eight subspecies. Now a paper in the Oriental Bird Club journal, Forktail <Actinic:Variable Name = '1'/>,co-authored by a BirdLife scientist, proposes that the hawk-owls of the Philippines form a complex of seven species from different islands and island groups, including two that have not previously been described at any taxonomic level. These two undescribed species have been given scientific names honouring two conservationists and long-term supporters of BirdLife International.

These owls group into three distinctive plumage types: one with all-streaked underparts and plain crowns, one with mottled or barred breasts, streaked lower underparts, and spotted crowns, and one with barred to nearly plain underparts (the ‘unstreaked’ group).

Although specimens have been in museum collections for many years, sound recordings were until recently available only for a few island forms, and most were incomplete and of poor quality.

These recordings were, however, adequate to establish that the Mindoro form mindorensis differs profoundly in vocalisations (thin high-pitched whistles and hoarse rasps) from the nominate Luzon form philippensis (a series of mid-pitched barking notes), prompting the separation of Mindoro Hawk-owl N. mindorensis in 1999.

New fieldwork targeting morphologically distinctive Ninox taxa has provided nearly complete sampling of the vocal repertoires of key island populations, and thereby made it possible to resolve the species limits in the Philippine Hawk-owl complex. (The recordings can be accessed at

The recordings reveal an extraordinary degree of differentiation in a group of birds for which vocal communication is of paramount importance in species recognition.

“Hawk-owls that differ in plumage also differ in vocalisations, so much so that their treatment as one species in a group with innate vocalisations such as owls is untenable”, said Dr Nigel Collar, co-author of the paper, and Leventis Fellow in Conservation Biology at BirdLife International.

On the basis of their analysis, the authors propose the following arrangement for the N. philippensis complex:

Luzon Hawk-owl Ninox philippensis

Mindanao Hawk-owl Ninox spilocephala

Mindoro Hawk-owl Ninox mindorensis

Romblon Hawk-owl Ninox spilonota

Cebu Hawk-owl Ninox rumseyi

Camiguin Hawk-owl Ninox leventisi

Sulu Hawk-owl Ninox reyi

The previously undescribed Camiguin Hawk-owl was named for Anastasios P. Leventis, BirdLife Vice President, BirdLife Patron, former BirdLife Treasurer and long standing supporter of BirdLife International. He has been crucial in the stable development of the organisation, and particular support for Nigel Collar has allowed Collar to work extensively on Philippine birds and conservation issues over the past decade. Cebu Hawk-owl was named for the conservationist and ornithologist Stephen J. Rumsey, also a BirdLife Patron, former BirdLife Treasurer and long term supporter who has helped promote research and conservation on the island of Cebu.

The conservation status of these various forms awaits full evaluation. BirdLife International, as the Red List Authority for the world’s birds on behalf of the IUCN, will evaluate the new species’ Red List category in the 2013 Red List update. However, five species -from Mindoro, Romblon, Cebu, Camiguin and Sulu- are likely to be at risk.
(1) FORKTAIL 28 (2012): 1–20:Vocal divergence and new species in the Philippine Hawk Owl Ninox philippensis complexP. C. RASMUSSEN, D. N. S. ALLEN, N. J. COLLAR, B. DEMEULEMEESTER, R. O. HUTCHINSON, P. G. C. JAKOSALEM, R. S. KENNEDY, F. R. LAMBERT & L. M. PAGUNTALAN

Western Siem Pang Forest: natural wonder of the Kingdom of Cambodia

BirdLife International Cambodia Programme has just published a lavishly illustrated report revealing the global conservation importance of the proposed Western Siem Pang Protected Forest located in a remote area of northern Cambodia near the border with Laos.

The Biodiversity of the Proposed Western Siem Pang Protected Forest, Stung Treng Province, Cambodia collates for the first time all the biodiversity information gathered by BirdLife and partners over the last decade.

Covering expanses of deciduous and semi-evergreen forests along the Sekong River, Western Siem Pang is one of only a handful of sites worldwide that supports populations of an astonishing total of five Critically Endangered bird species: White-shouldered Ibis Pseudibis davisoni and Giant Ibis Thaumatibis gigantea, White-rumped Gyps bengalensis, Slender-billed G. tenuirostris, and Red-headed Vultures Sarcogyps calvus. The local populations of both ibis species amount to 25% of the global population. In the case of the White-shouldered Ibis Western Siem Pang holds the single largest sub-population in the world.

“The MacArthur Foundation believes Western Siem Pang is too important for the conservation of too many species to risk losing this site: but without action, loss is a serious risk and that is why we are working with BirdLife to support efforts to conserve this globally irreplaceable site”, said Jörgen Thomsen, Director of Conservation and Sustainable Development Department of MacArthur Foundation.

Western Siem Pang is currently unprotected and much of it is threatened by an economic land concession, which would destroy the forest and its wildlife. BirdLife and the Forestry Administration with support from the MacArthur Foundation and the Fondation Prince Albert II de Monaco are working towards a solution to ensure the long term sustainable management of the site.

“The Forestry Administration considers this report as a supporting document for the proposal to establish the site as a Protected Forest for sustainable forest and wildlife resource management and conservation in accordance with the National Forest Programme and meeting Cambodia’s Millennium Developments Goals”, said H. E. Chheng Kimsun, Delegate of the Royal Government, Chief of Forest Administration.

Celebrating vultures

BirdLife Partners around the world have joined with raptor conservation and research organisations to celebrate International Vulture Awareness Day, with events and awareness raising taking place.This comes against a backdrop of problems facing vultures in Africa and Asia.

Vultures are an ecologically vital group of birds that face a range of threats in many areas that they occur. Populations of many species are under pressure and some species are facing extinction.

International Vulture Awareness Day, which took place on 1st September provides a way to remind people of their plight and their importance.

Vultures fulfil an extremely important ecological role. They keep the environment free of carcasses and waste, restrict the spread of diseases such as anthrax and botulism, and help control numbers of pests such as rats and feral dogs by reducing the food available to them. They are of cultural value to communities in Africa and Asia, and have important eco-tourism value.

However, vulture populations are in steep decline across the globe. In the Indian subcontinent, populations of three formerly very common species of vulture have declined by more than 97% as a result of consuming cattle carcasses contaminated with the veterinary drug diclofenac.

In 2006, the governments of India, Pakistan and Nepal finally introduced a ban on the manufacture of diclofenac and pharmaceutical firms are now encouraged to promote an alternative drug, meloxicam, which is proven to be safe for vultures. The manufacturing ban has had some success in reducing the drug’s prevalence. Unfortunately, there is still no ban on the sale or use of the drug and the overall trend across South Asia remains one of continuing vulture declines.

In East Africa there have been mass vulture deaths associated with misuse of chemicals, huge population declines in West Africa due to habitat loss, and the disappearance of vultures from large areas of their formers ranges in South Africa because of the continued use of vulture parts in traditional medicine and sorcery.

Other threats include power line collisions and electrocutions, disturbance at breeding sites, drowning in farm reservoirs, direct persecution and declining food availability.

Launch of the 2012 ‘Spring Alive’ Season in Africa

On 1st of September 2012, (8) African BirdLife International Partners will start their observations of migratory birds returning to spring in Africa.

The BirdLife International Africa Partnership Secretariat is pleased to announce the launch of the 2012 Spring Alive Season in Africa. Spring Alive is an international project organised by BirdLife International, designed to promote children’s interest in nature and its conservation by highlighting the arrival of spring.
The core component of Spring Alive is a mass-participation website that is implemented in all partner countries. Citizens, but specifically children and families, are encouraged to observe and record the arrival of 5 migratory bird species each year: White Stork, Barn Swallow, Common Swift, Common Cuckoo and Eurasian Bee-eater.

This year 8 African countries; Botswana, Ghana, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Malawi, Nigeria, Uganda, and Zimbabwe will participate in the programme. From September to the end of November 2012, many bird connected activities, engaging children, their families and friends will take place in the participating countries. On participants will enter their first observations of arrivals of the five selected bird species.”
According to Thandiwe Chikomo [Spring Alive Focal Point for Africa] -“This year a record-breaking number of over 40 countries worldwide will participate in Spring Alive season. For the first time there will be 8 participants in Africa.

This event is intended to raise awareness and appreciation of migratory birds and underscore that collaborative approaches, at different scales, are required for the conservation of the birds and their habitats.

All the 8 participating African countries will hold an official launch of the season in their respective countries. In this year’s African edition of Spring Alive, children from eight African countries are welcome to participate in a drawing contest dubbed “My Spring”. The young entrants who submit their works until 15th November 2012 will have a chance to win photo cameras.
Every bird lover is invited to visit to register observations, follow Spring Alive species, keep on learning new facts about their favourite bird and enjoy bird related elements and games, e.g. having good time in brand-new “Swift Academy”.

Saving Narcondam Hornbill is on radar of the Indian Government

On a remote volcanic island in the Andaman Sea, surrounded by coral reefs and carpeted in thick forest, Narcondam Hornbill Aceros narcondami makes its home. In fact, the tropical evergreen forest on the 12km2 Narcondam Island is the only place this species is found, giving it one of the smallest natural ranges of any bird species in the world. With a population of just 50-249 mature individuals, this small, distinctive, dark hornbill is classified as Endangered. The island, which is situated within the Andaman and Nicobar Island group, has been a recognised wildlife sanctuary since 1977 and is an Important Bird Area. Due to conservation efforts and limited threats, the population is stable at the moment, but it is extremely susceptible to new threats and natural disasters because of its size and range.
Narcondam Hornbill saved

So it comes as great news that a proposal from the Indian Coast Guard to build a RADAR surveillance station has recently been rejected by the Ministry of Environment and Forests (Government of India). The plan included removing virgin forest to build a large RADAR installation, diesel power generator and wide 2km access road. Dr Asad Rahmani, Director of the Bombay Natural History Society (BirdLife in India), was invited by the Indian Government to assess the impact of the development. His strong rejection and a public campaign led to the successful protection of Narcondam Hornbill.
The creation of a small police outpost in 1969 and subsequent forest loss, firewood collection, hunting and goat introduction (which prevents natural forest regeneration) has already greatly affected the population. A larger-scale project, with considerable tree felling, additional human presence and exploitation would have caused major devastation to the species and quite possibly extinction.

Committed mothers

The hornbills use mature, undisturbed forest with large trees for nesting and roosting. For the duration of egg-laying and chick-rearing, the female hornbills devote complete care to their chicks- so much so that they shed their flight feathers and are incapable of flight. This means that, on top of the existing habitat degradation, any disturbance associated with building and regular functioning of a RADAR system would have likely caused irreversible adverse impacts on this species.The Ministry has highlighted that other options are available for the Indian Coast Guard, through technology choice or alternative off-shore locations. No such option is available for Narcondam Hornbill, so this proposal rejection is a great success for the species.

Future conservation work proposed includes enforcing the existing hunting ban and protecting this remote habitat by encouraging regeneration of the existing forest through the removal of all remaining goats from the island, and by providing cooking fuel to the occupiers of the police outpost.

The Birder's Market | Resource | Bird news for Britain / Rest of the World | World Bird News | World Bird News 2012 |  World Bird News September 2012

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