Scientists Puzzled by New Bird Species Discovered in Africa

Just over a month since the Smithsonian Institution announced the discovery of new bird species in Africa, little is still known about the olive-backed forest robin named for its distinctive olive back and rump.

Scientists are trying to unravel the little bird’s specific diet, mating and nesting habits, and the species’ complete habitat range, but the dense undergrowth of tropical forest where it was sighted may still offer further surprises.

Adult members of the robins - both male and female - measure just about 4.5 inches in length and average 18 grams in weight.

Males exhibit a fiery orange throat and breast, yellow belly, olive back and black feathers on the head. Females are similar, but less vibrant. Both sexes have a distinctive white dot on their face in front of each eye.


The bird was first observed by Smithsonian scientists in 2001 during a field expedition in southwest Gabon but it was initially thought, however, to be an immature individual of an already-recognized species.

To ensure that the specimens collected were a new species, geneticists at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo compared the DNA of the new specimens to that of the four known forest robin species.

The results clearly showed that these birds were in fact a separate and distinct species but anything else is remains a puzzle to scientists.

“I suspected something when I found the first bird in Gabon since it didn’t exactly match any of the species descriptions in the field guides,” Brian Schmidt, a research ornithologist at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and a member of the team that made the discovery, said.

Image credit: Brian Schmidt