As regular CFZ-watchers will know, for some time Corinna has been doing a column for Animals & Men and a regular segment on On The Track... particularly about out-of-place birds and rare vagrants. There seem to be more and more bird stories from all over the world hitting the news these days so, to make room for them all - and to give them all equal and worthy coverage - she has set up this new blog to cover all things feathery and Fortean.

Wednesday 23 April 2014

How a Tiny Bird Got Its Own Branch on the Tree of Life

A tiny brown bird with a big voice is making news in the animal kingdom.

The spotted wren-babbler found in China, the Indian Himalayas and northern Vietnam was recently proven to be part of a separate family of wren-babblers, genetically distinct and unrelated to other birds of the same type.

“It’s such a distinctive little thing,” says Per Alstrom, the Swedish visiting professor at Beijing’s Chinese Academy of Sciences who made the discovery. “It sits on its own branch on the big tree of life” for the perching songbirds that make up much of the bird kingdom.

This wren-babbler, named Elachura formosa, is a “very important discovery,” says Terry Townshend, a Beijing bird watching expert and author of the Birding Beijing blog. Mr. Alstrom is “doing a lot for Chinese science.”

So why hasn’t anyone made the discovery before now?

The bird looks almost exactly like other species of wren-babblers, says Mr. Alstrom, with pale brown coloring and small white spots, so no one thought to test its DNA. “This guy has probably had lots of relatives, but they’ve gone extinct.”

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