Two new species of screech owls discovered in the Amazon rainforest

The Amazon jungle hides unknown creatures, very difficult to detect, especially if they are nocturnal. In a new article published in the journal Zootaxa, a team of researchers has described two new species of screeching owls Xingu and Alagoas. who live in the forests of the Amazon and the Atlantic, which are already in critical danger of extinction.

The scientists compared the songs of the birds and found that there were variations in the sounds they made.

“Screech owls are a well-known group compared to other types of organisms in these areas,” he says. John bates, from the Field Museum in Chicago and one of the authors of the study. “But when you start listening to them and comparing them across geography, it turns out that there are things that have not been appreciated. That is why these new species are described ”, he adds.

The newly discovered screech owls are relatives of the eastern screech owls common in the US “They are pretty owls, probably 12 to 15 cm in length, with tufts of feathers on their heads,” Bates describes. “Some are brown, some are gray, and some are a mix.” Until this study, the new species had been grouped together with the tawny-bellied screech owl and the black-headed screech owl, both distributed throughout South America.

Researchers began to discover differences between owl species after years of fieldwork in the Amazon rainforest, as well as in the Atlantic rainforest that stretches along the eastern part of Brazil and the surrounding countries. The owls the researchers were looking for live in trees, often 100 feet above the ground. That makes studying them difficult. But they had a secret weapon to detect them: shrieking.

Xingu’s screeching owl. / Kleiton Silva

“We recorded their calls and then we listened to them. Owls are territorial and, when they listened to the recordings, they went out to defend their territory ”, the authors point out. They compared the songs of the birds and found that there were variations in the sounds they made, a sign that they were different species.

They also examined the physical appearance of the birds and took samples of tissue to be able to study your DNA. In total, 252 specimens, 83 tape recordings, and 49 samples were analyzed.

Critically endangered birds

The combination of genetic variation, physical differences, and unique vocalizations led the team to describe two new species: the screech owl Xingu and the Alagoas screech owl.

The Xingu Screech Owl is endemic to the Amazon area most severely burned by the unprecedented fires of 2019

Jason weckstein

While owls are new to science, they are already in danger of disappearing forever. “The two new species are threatened by deforestation,” he says. Jason weckstein, from Drexel University (USA).

“The Xingu Screech Owl is endemic to the area of ​​the Amazon most severely burned by the fires unprecedented in 2019; and the Alagoas screech owl should be considered critically endangered given the extensive fragmentation of the forest in the small area where it is found, ”says Weckstein.


Sidnei M. Dantas et al. “Multi-character taxonomic review, systematics, and biogeography of the Black-capped / Tawny-bellied Screech Owl (Megascops atricapilla-M. Watsonii) complex (Aves: Strigidae)”. Zootaxa

Rights: Creative Commons.

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