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Bornean Rajah Scops Owl Rediscovered in Forest

Posted By : The Animal Facts Editorial Team

Date: May 4, 2021 11:02 am

Bornean Rajah Scops Owl

The first photograph to ever be captured of the Bornean Rajah scops owl which has been seen in the wild for the first time since 1892

Photo Credit: Smithsonian's National Zoo

Scientists have captured the first photo of the Bornean subspecies of the Rajah scops owl after it was seen in the wild for the first time since 1892. The discovery was published by Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center ecologist Andy Boyce in The Wilson Journal of Ornithology on April 28th. The sighting occurred in May 2016 as part of a 10 year study of avian life-history at Mount Kinabalu.

“It was a pretty rapid progression of emotions when I first saw the owl—absolute shock and excitement that we’d found this mythical bird, then pure anxiety that I had to document it as fast as I could,” Boyce said.

Boyce believes that the Bornean subspecies of the Rajah scops owl may actually be its own spcies.

“Based on size, eye color and habitat, I knew it was the Bornean Rajah scops owl. What’s more, taking into account this bird’s specific plumage characters, known speciation patterns within the Otus genus and phylogeographic patterns of montane birds in Borneo and Sumatra, O. b. brookii is likely its own unique species and further study is needed.”

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Scops owls are small owls weighing just 100g (4oz). Two subspecies of the Rajah scops owl are currently recognized, one from Borneo and the other from Sumatra. Other owls in the genus Otus have often show rapid divergence in to separate species after isolation.

“Unfortunately, we are only good at conserving what we know and what we name,” Boyce said. “If this rare bird is endemic only to Borneo and is its own species, conservation action is more likely. Our sole sighting during this intensive study confirms this owl lives in mature montane forests, likely above or below the survey area. Those elevations are already threatened by habitat loss due to climate change, deforestation and palm oil development. To protect this bird, we need a firm understanding of its habitat and ecology.”

Almost all study of the Rajah scops owl has occurred on Sumatra. The relative abundance of this subspecies led to the Rajah scops owl being listed as least concern despite the apparent rarity of the species on Borneo.

Learn more about the Smithsonian's National Zoo on their website – Smithsonian's National Zoo

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