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New Bird Species Discovered in Plain Sight

In a city with more than 2 million people, you’d think that everything within the vicinity would be known to the residents. However, even though we may think we know everything, sometimes there are new and mysterious things hiding in plain sight.

That was the case for a newly discovered bird species named the Cambodian Tailorbird (Orthotomus chaktomuk). The bird was first discovered in Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh, in 2009, after scientists photographed the bird on a routine avian flu check. At the time, they merely thought it belonged to a similar species.

It wasn’t until three years later, when birdwatchers spotted the gray bird with an orange head at a construction site, that people began taking a closer look. After collecting more specimens and evidence, scientists were able to definitely prove that it was a new species.

The discovery of a new species is always exciting, but an exciting part of the story is that it was hiding in plain sight. Here’s more from one of the scientists interviewed for the Oriental Bird Club:

“The modern discovery of an undescribed bird species within the limits of a large populous city — not to mention 30 minutes from my home — is extraordinary,” said Simon Mahood, a Wildlife Conservation Society scientist.

The fact that a new bird species could be discovered in the middle of a city with millions of people make it evident that there’s still a lot to be discovered on this planet, even in places we’ve been to countless times.

While it’s good news the bird has been discovered, it’s also disheartening that it was immediately recommended to be classified as a near threatened species under the IUCN’s Red List because of declining habitat caused by urban development.

Despite the reminder that our actions have profound effects on the wildlife around us, let’s celebrate the addition of the Cambodian Tailorbird to the list of species.

Timothy Martinez Jr. is a writer and freelance journalist. His work has been published in The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Remapping Debate in New York City and other publications. He’s been a bird lover since he was young and currently lives in New Orleans, L.A.