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Found: A Bird That Could Be Distinguished Only by Its Song

It looked almost identical to another species.

Machaeropterus eckelberryi
Machaeropterus eckelberryi Florida Museum/Andy Kratter

The bird was small, with a crest of red feathers and a bright yellow splotch across its front. The scientists easily identified it as a type of manakin. But when trying to identify its species, they ran into a problem.

This little bird didn’t look much like any of the other manakins that lived in the same area, but it did resemble a manakin subspecies, Machaeropterus regulus aureopectus, that lives in Venezuela’s highlands. But the scientists had found the bird in the mountains of Peru, essentially across the continent. If the same exact species of bird lived in these two isolated locations, it would have been a surprise.

Now, in a new paper in Zootaxa, the scientists have identified the Peruvian bird as its own species, Machaeropterus eckelberryi.

The key to distinguishing the Peruvian bird from the Venezuelan bird was its song. The M. eckelberryi, which is named after a famous bird illustrator, sings a one-note tune, that rises in pitch. Its song also lacks undertones.

The bird was originally discovered in 1996, but it took years for the scientists to be able to identify this difference, in part because they had no record of the vocalizations of the Venezuelan birds. Only once they knew the songs of both birds could they prove for sure that they were truly distinct lookalikes.