Sunday, January 25, 2015

New bird species: Desert Tawny Owl

There were two aspects of species discovery that I presented to my Conservation Biology class on Thursday: distribution and detection. New species that are likely to be discovered are those with narrow distributions and low detection. Most new species, particularly birds, are coming out of the tropics so this is an exciting discovery.

Hume's Owl (Strix butleri) Eilat mountains Jose Ardaiz Carabo de Hume

The bird is described in Zootaxa, whose subscription is... get this... $12,000 PER YEAR. What? So I'm not even going to link to it but describe some details. This is a new owl from the Arabian Peninsula - not exactly tropical (although hot!). The is a species split: one species that will become two. One population, the one described from the type specimen, will remain but another population will be now be named. The original species is Strix butleri (Hume's Owl) and new the species will be the Strix hadorami (Desert Tawny Owl). The specific epithet being in honor of an Israeli ornithologist.  

We have one Strix in the Pennsylvania area, S. varia. A cool bird on the east coast that prefers wetlands but hybridizing with an endangered species on the west coast - more on that in a future post. 

S. hadorami is found in deserts and nests on cliffs. Sounds like a cool bird to see. The new species designation is based on morphology and and mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) so this sounds legit (as my daughter likes to say). 


  1. Available for free here:

    The money line where DNA is concerned:
    "Genetic divergence between the butleri type and the other specimens usually ascribed to this species, from western Saudi Arabia and Israel, respectively, was equal to the range of divergence among well-accepted species in the
    same genus. The specimens from Israel and Saudi Arabia were even more similar and probably more closely related to African Wood Owl S. woodfordii (especially to S. w. nigricantior) than to the butleri type."

    "Strix hadorami occurs in rocky desert areas with ravines, cliffs and small caves, particularly in deep wadis with crevices for nesting and roosting and some vegetation (Shirihai 1996, Baha el Din & Baha el Din 2001). It is most frequent in limestone cliffs, but also occurs in granitic and basaltic regions of Saudi Arabia, and sandstone regions of Jordan (Andrews 1995). The species is present from about sea level in southern Oman and around the Dead Sea to an elevation of c. 2800 m in southwest Saudi Arabia. Its breeding range overlaps that of other owls, e.g., Little Owl Athene noctua, Spotted Eagle Owl Bubo africanus milesi and Desert Eagle Owl B. ascalaphus (Jennings 2010). Analysis of pellets in Israel (Wadi Nekarot) reveals that its diet mostly comprises rodents and small insectivores (gerbils, jirds, mice and shrews), less frequently geckos, some passerines (e.g. Desert Lark Ammomanes deserti and House Sparrow Passer domesticus) and arthropods such as scorpions,
    grasshoppers and beetles (Leshem 1981)."

  2. Hooray researchgate! I really don't understand the world of copyrights. Anyway.. thanks for sharing. Check this out: first sample is the best.