Did you know that the collective noun for owls is a parliament? Odd, because they tend to be solitary or paired. Anyways: a new parliament of seven owl species from the jungles of the Philippines.
A research team, led by Dr. Pamela Rasmussen of Michigan State University, was documenting the songs of the Philippine hawk owl (Ninox philippensis). This species was known to have geographically variable plumage, and previous taxonomists had split it into a number of subspecies. But plumage was not enough to diagnose
Because owls are nocturnal, they rely heavily on vocalizations to tell each other apart. And since they don’t learn these songs—they are in fact thought to be genetically programmed—owls with distinct enough songs probably belong to separate species. But recording owls at night in remote jungles is no easy task, and it took 15 years before the research team could confirm that they were dealing with seven hawk owls instead of just one.
Five of those seven species had previously been considered subspecies of the Philippine hawk owl on the basis of their plumage. But two—the Cebu and Camiguin hawk owls, named for the islands on which they are found—were completely new. It’s quite rare to discover a new vertebrate, and especially a new bird in this age of fanatical birding. But here were two! It’s nice, I think, to know that there are still mysteries out there to be brought to light.
The full article describing all seven species can be found here in PDF form (see page 12 for pictures of all the owls). And you can hear examples of the song recordings analyzed in this study: here’s the Camiguin hawk owl and the Cebu hawk owl.
Reference: Rasmussen PC, Allen DNS, Collar NJ, DeMeulemeester B, Hutchinson RO, Jakosalem PGC, Kennedy RS, Lambert FR, Paguntalan LM. 2012. Vocal divergence and new species in the Philippine Hawk Owl Ninox philippensis complex. Forktail 28:1-20.