New species of owl discovered - and it could go straight on the red list

A new species of owl has been discovered in the rainforests of an island off the west coast of Africa.

The bird was found on Principe Island, which is part of the country of Sao Tome and Principe.

It has been named as such, officially anointed as the Principe Scops-Owl - or Otus bikegila.

While local testimonies suggest it could have lived there as far back as 1928, scientists were not able to confirm its presence until 2016.

Principe Scops-Owl has now been pictured after an extensive survey of its homeland by researchers from the Spanish National Museum of Natural Sciences and the Natural History and Science Museum of the University of Porto.

One of the main clues leading to its discovery was its unique call.

"Otus bikegila's unique call is a short 'tuu' note repeated at a fast rate of about one note per second, reminiscent of insect calls. It is often emitted in duets, almost as soon as the night has fallen," Martim Melo explained.

Where exactly was the owl found?

While the entire island was searched, the owl was only found in a forest uninhabited by humans to the south.

It occupies a relatively small area of 15km squared, about four times the size of New York's Central Park.

Researchers say between 1,000 and 1,500 of the owls occupy the space.

The owl is the eighth known species of bird endemic to Principe.

'Highly threatened'

While the number of the owls is quite high relative to the size of their home, the researchers have said they should be classified as critically endangered.

Their status will be decided by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which may place the owls on its highest threat level red list.

"The discovery of a new species that is immediately evaluated as highly threatened illustrates well the current biodiversity predicament", the researchers say.

"On a positive note, the area of occurrence of the Principe Scops-Owl is fully included within the Principe Obo Natural Park, which will hopefully help secure its protection."

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