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Borneo’s Spectacled Flowerpecker bird is confirmed as a new species 10 years after it was first seen

The Spectacled Flowerpecker bird which was first spotted 10 years ago in the jungles of Borneo has just been confirmed as a new — and totally unique — species. 

The Spectacled Flowerpecker was first spotted 2009 by a team of birdwatchers including University of Leeds ornithologist David Edwards

Now a team from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in the US has become the first to capture and study the small, grey bird.

Their findings confirm that the bird belongs to a colourful family of fruit-eating birds known as flowerpeckers found around tropical southern Asia and Australia.

However, DNA analysis suggests that the new species is not closely related to any other known flowerpecker — making it a unique find. 

The Spectacled Flowerpecker bird, pictured, was first spotted 10 years ago in the jungles of Borneo and has just been confirmed as a new — and totally unique — species

‘This bird is totally unique,’ said Christopher Milensky, leader of the Smithsonian survey that led to the new discovery.

‘It’s unlike anything else, and it is the latest example of the rich biodiversity that can be found in this region.’

The tropical island of Borneo in South East Asia is home to hundreds of species of birds, including dozens that are seen nowhere else in the world.

The Spectacled Flowerpecker has drawn major attention since it was first photographed and described by a group of birdwatchers in 2009.

The bird’s stout, pot-bellied body and stubby bill immediately suggested that it was a Flowerpecker.

However, its distinctive facial markings — the prominent white arcs above and below its eyes that give the bird its bespectacled appearance — were unfamiliar.

The birdwatching group, which included Dr Edwards, dubbed the bird the Spectacled Flowerpecker and proposed that it might be a species new to science.

For the next 10 years, birds matching the description of the Spectacled Flowerpecker have been spotted periodically in lowland forests around the island.

Although it was not until earlier this year, when the American team found the elusive bird in a remote wildlife preserve in South Western Borneo, that scientists had a chance to study it directly.

The Spectacled Flowerpecker was first spotted 2009 by a team of birdwatchers including University of Leeds ornithologist David Edwards

The Spectacled Flowerpecker was first spotted 2009 by a team of birdwatchers including University of Leeds ornithologist David Edwards

The Smithsonian researchers were collaborating with Malaysia’s Sarawak Forestry Corporation on a survey of the diversity of bird species living in the Lanjak Entimau Wildlife Sanctuary on the northwest of the island.

The team’s chosen research site was miles from any reported Spectacled Flowerpecker sightings, so discovering one came as a surprise.

However, Mr Milensky said he recognised it immediately.

‘I was fairly certain that’s what it was, and I knew it had not been formally described and documented,’ he said.

‘As soon as I saw it, I knew we had a new species of bird to describe.’

Now a team from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in the US has become the first to capture and study the small, grey bird

Now a team from the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in the US has become the first to capture and study the small, grey bird

The researchers returned to the Smithsonian Museum to examine the bird closely — analysing its external features and comparing its DNA to that of other flowerpeckers.

Their genetic analysis turned up another surprise, however, revealing that the new bird was very different from its family members.

‘It isn’t related to any of the other flowerpeckers all that closely,’ said Smithsonian team leader Jacob Saucier.

‘It’s a whole new species that distinctly stands out.’

Like other flowerpeckers, the new species has been spotted eating mistletoe, a parasitic plant that grows high in the forest canopy.

The Spectacled Flowerpecker has drawn major attention since it was first photographed and described by a group of birdwatchers in Borneo — at location F in the above — in 2009

The Spectacled Flowerpecker has drawn major attention since it was first photographed and described by a group of birdwatchers in Borneo — at location F in the above — in 2009

Through DNA analysis and close inspection of seeds from the bird’s gut, the team were able to identify the type of mistletoe that the bird eats.

This information gives researchers a new perspective on this bird’s ecological needs and habitat preferences.

‘We think that wherever primary forest and mistletoe occur, there’s a good chance this bird could be there,’ said Mr Saucier.

The researchers hope that their discovery will bring attention to the unexplored diversity that remains in the forests of Borneo — along with the importance of conserving such threatened ecosystems.

The scientific name that the team chose for the Spectacled Flowerpecker — Dicaeum dayakorum — honours the Dayaks, the people who live in and are working to protect the island’s forests.

The full findings of the study were published in the journal Zootaxa. 

The team's chosen research site was miles from any reported Spectacled Flowerpecker sightings, so discovering one came as a surprise

 The team’s chosen research site was miles from any reported Spectacled Flowerpecker sightings, so discovering one came as a surprise

The tropical island of Borneo in South East Asia is home to hundreds of species of birds, including dozens that are seen nowhere else in the world

The tropical island of Borneo in South East Asia is home to hundreds of species of birds, including dozens that are seen nowhere else in the world

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