New bird species are rarely discovered nowadays. Since 2000, five new species are discovered every year on average, most of which in South America.
While studying birds at high elevations in India, an international team of scientists realized that what was considered a single species, the Alpine Thrush Zoothera mollissima (previously known as Plain-backed Thrush), was in fact two different species. What first caught the attention of the scientists was the fact that the Alpine Thrush found in the coniferous and mixed forest habitat had a rather musical song, whereas individuals found in the same region, but on bare rocky habitats at higher altitudes above the tree-line had a much harsher, scratchier, unmusical song.
Over the course of six years, the team looked at specimens found in 15 museums in 7 countries, comparing their plumage, structure, song, DNA and ecology and was able to reveal consistent differences in plumage and structure between birds from these two populations. It was thus confirmed that the species with the musical song breeding in the forests of the eastern Himalayas was a different species and had no scientific name.
The bird, described in the current issue of the journal Avian Research, has been named Himalayan Forest Thrush Zoothera salimalii. The scientific name honours the great Indian ornithologist Sálim Ali, in recognition of his contributions to the development of Indian ornithology and nature conservation.
Even though the Himalayan Forest Thrush is locally common, it has been overlooked due to its close resemblance to the Alpine Thrush.