Owl discovered in 2013 named Omani Owl
October 5, 2015 | 10:13 PM
by TImes News Service

Muscat: An owl discovered in 2013 in Oman by Magnus Robb and the Sound Approach is being considered a new species.

The species was named Omani Owl and has created a stir among both bird watchers and biologists. That a bird could have evaded discovery until now is being deemed extraordinary. Until recently, the owl was described and identified only using sound recordings and photographs that were considered controversial.

A rival group of researchers had re-examined museum specimens of the closely related Hume’s Owl -- Strix butleri.

The genetic analysis of these specimens, collected from various Middle Eastern countries, revealed that Hume’s Owl could be divided in two species: Strix hadorami, which has a geographical range in some of the Levant countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Yemen and Southern Oman and the Strix butleri, for which there is just a single specimen available from Pakistan.

However, this study did not examine DNA of the new species found in Oman.

In March 2015, Robb and his colleagues returned to the mountains of Oman where they captured and released the newly identified owl species with the permission of the Omani Ministry of Environment and Climate Affairs (MECA) and as part of a joint conservation project with the Environment Society of Oman and Bird Life International.

Feathers and blood from the owl were collected and analysed, proving that there are indeed two Strix species existing in the Middle East. DNA analysis showed that the Omani Owl is the same as Strix butleri.

In addition, DNA taken from a mystery owl in Mashhad, north eastern Iran in January 2015 by Babak Musavi and Ali Khani prove that it is from an Omani Owl. This had revealed that the owl still exists outside the Arabian Peninsula and 1,300 kilometres away from the nearest species of record.

The new study, published online in the bioRxiv journal, recommends dropping the ambiguous and common name -- Hume’s Owl and retaining the name Omani Owl for Strix butleri, since Oman holds the only known population of this species, with only single individuals ever having been located outside Oman.

This change was adopted by the IOC World Bird List in August 2015.

When Robb heard the unfamiliar sounds of an owl in March 2013, he was, in fact, rediscovering a species, whose existence had been previously recorded in a tatty old specimen in The Natural History Museum (Tring, England), and is said to have originated in Pakistan, and collected 135 years earlier.

This new study once again underscored that much remains to be learnt from owls. Robb’s recently published book, “Undiscovered Owls” describes his work on owls in detail.

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