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Jul 29, 2013 09:25 AM EDT

Kansas’ Doctoral Student Discovers New Bird Species in Central Peru

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Peter Hosner, a doctoral student of ecology and evolutionary biology at the Kansas University, has found a new bird species 'Junin Tapaculo' in the remote Andes Mountains of central Peru. The description of the species is published in the Wilson Journal of Ornithology last month.

"We found the Junin Tapaculo in the field by its distinctive voice," Hosner, a doctoral student of ecology and evolutionary biology at KU said. "I'd spent a lot of time traveling and working with birds in the Andes before I enrolled at KU, and I had never heard anything like it before. We made voice recordings and collected specimens that are needed in all scientific species descriptions. Tapaculos are extremely difficult to identify, so at this point we weren't sure if it was a new species, or if we just happened to record a rarely given vocalization by an already described species."

Tapaculo is a small, blackish bird that lifts its tail when approached. The birds are known to be similar to wrens, in appearance and behavior. They are also described to be mouse like and photophobic.

Hosner and colleagues stated that the bird lived at a band of specific elevation between 8,000 and 10,500 feet.

The tapaculos are a group of birds that are predominantly found in South and Central America. Highest diversity of the group is found in the Andean region. These birds, mostly brown or gray, have short wings and long legs with string feet that they use to scratch the ground. The birds are characterized by their loud ventriloquial calls and when confronted, stick up their tails and scurry for cover.

"Tapaculos are recognized by ornithologists and birders as one of the most difficult bird families to observe in the field," said Hosner. "They tend to be found near the ground in areas of thick, tangled vegetation. They're active and almost never stop moving. Even if you can't see the birds themselves, you can usually locate them by the movement of vegetation in their wake. They're most easily seen by playing recordings of their songs to coax them out into the open. Because of this behavior, frustrated observers have suggested that tapaculos behave more like mice than they do birds."

The eastern slope of Andes is steep and densely forested. It gradually gets wetter and colder with increasing altitude. Finding a new bird species in the region from a group of birds is a challenging task. The birds' behavior causes a lot of frustration among ornithologists.

However, for first-time-author Hosner, nothing is more challenging than the paperwork associated with research.

 "It's endless," said Hosner.

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