[Oversea] Chinese year of the babbler

Chinese year of the babbler

Chinese year of the babbler

A new species of babbler has been described from Guangxi province in south-west China close to the border with Vietnam. Named Nonggang Babbler Stachyris nonggangensis, after the reserve at which it was discovered, this new species is closely related to Sooty Babbler S. herberti but is larger and has white crescent patches behind the ear coverts and dark spots on the upper breast and throat.

Ornithologists, Zhou Fang and Jiang Aiwu from Guangxi University first sighted the birds in surveys during 2005 and confirmed its identity as an undescribed taxon the following year. A formal description was published in a recent edition of leading ornithological journal The Auk.

In general behaviour it resembles a wren-babbler of the genus Napothera in that it prefers running to flying, and seems to spend most of its time on the ground foraging for insects between rocks and under fallen leaves. This is in contrast to other closely-related babbler species that spend most of their time foraging in undergrowth and trees, seldom coming to the ground. No nest has yet been found. About 100 pairs of the birds have been observed in Nonggang.

"I have been studying birds in the region since the 1970s but I had never seen it before. Their habitat in the reserve is protected", Zhou says. "But as they could also exist in the karst rainforest outside the reserve, logging and burning wood to make charcoal pose a threat to their wider habitat."

Its natural habitat is karst seasonal rainforest that, following selective cutting, is dominated by Burretiodendron hsienmu.

"The limestone area in south-western Guangxi is part of the Indo-Burma global biodiversity hotspot and the south-east Chinese Mountains Endemic Bird Area, and is one of the most typical tropical karst regions in the world", Zhou continues. "The fragility of the karst ecosystem and its destruction by people pose great threats to the bird's existence. Therefore, research and conservation of the birds in this habitat is very urgent."

"This is exciting evidence that there could be many more interesting discoveries awaiting ornithologists in China", said Dr Nigel Collar, the Leventis Fellow in Conservation biology at BirdLife International.

This taxon will be assessed in due course by the BirdLife taxonomic working group. If treated as a full species, its conservation status will then be evaluated by BirdLife, the Red List Authority for birds on the IUCN Red List of threatened species.