The Amazon rainforest, a well-known epicenter of biodiversity, has offered up another trove of riches. The treasure takes the form of 15 newly described bird species. Some are tiny. One has a long, curved bill. Another is super fluffy. All live in the southern Amazon, most of them in an area known as the “arc of deforestation.”
It’s been 140 years since as many new Brazilian bird species were described at one time. In 1871, 40 new species were described by Austrian August von Pelzeln in Zur Ornithologie Brasiliens.
Discovered mostly within the last five years, in southern swaths of forest, many of the birds live near rivers. Eleven can only be found in Brazil; four of the species have also been seen in Peru and Bolivia. Most are Passeriformes, belonging to an order that includes ravens, sparrows, and finches.
They were spotted on various expeditions that included ornithologist Luis Silveira, of the University of São Paulo, and his students, as well as collaborators from three additional institutions. Together, they noticed that these strange new birds didn’t quite fit in.
“Describing new species is not a trivial task,” Silveira said. Many sang different songs, or had different genetic sequences than previously known birds. “We considered a bird as a new species when at least two of the three criteria — plumage, voice, and genetics — were consistently different from some previously known and closely related, already described species.”
Silveira and his colleagues will describe the species in a special volume of the Handbook of Birds of the World, which will be published in early summer. Here, we have photos of seven new species; others have only been illustrated.
Participating scientists and institutions also include Mario Cohn-Haft, from Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia; Bret Whitney, from Louisiana State University; and Alexandre Aleixo and his students from Museu Paraense Emílio Goeldi.