Two New Species of Owls Discovered in Philippines

Posted on August 17, 2012

New Owls Discovered in Philippines - Cebu Hawk  Owl and Camiguin Hawk Owl


Two new species of owls have been discovered in the Philippines. The Cebu Hawk owl is pictured on the top left and Camiguin Hawk owl is pictured on the bottom right. The discovery, which is featured in the current issue of Forktail, the Journal of Asian Ornithology, took 15 years to confirm.

The paper's lead author, Pam Rasmussen, Michigan State University assistant professor of zoology and assistant curator of mammalogy and ornithology at the MSU Museum, says the wait was well worth the effort.

Rasmussen says, "More than 15 years ago, we realized that new subspecies of Ninox hawk-owls existed in the Philippines. But it wasn't until last year that we obtained enough recordings that we could confirm that they were not just subspecies, but two new species of owls."

The first owl, the Camiguin Hawk-owl, is found only on the small island of Camiguin Sur, close to northern Mindanao. Despite being so close geographically to related owls on Mindanao, it has quite different physical characteristics and voice. At night, it gives a long solo song that builds in intensity, with a distinctive low growling tone. Pairs of owls give short barking duets that start with a growl. These owls are the only owls to have blue-gray eyes.

The second new discovery was the Cebu Hawk-owl. This bird was thought to be extinct, as the forests of Cebu have almost all been lost due to deforestation. Study of its structure and vocalizations confirmed that it was a new species. Rasmussen says it was the unique calling or vocalizations of both owls that confirmed that the new classifications were warranted.

Rasmussen says, "The owls don't learn their songs, which are genetically programmed in their DNA and are used to attract mates or defend their territory; so if they're very different, they must be new species. When we first heard the songs of both owls, we were amazed because they were so distinctly different that we realized they were new species."

Image: Courtesy of Oriental Bird Club: original painting by John Gale