Unique Family of Birds with Just One Species Discovered in Asia

The newly discovered spotted wren-babbler, Elachura formosa (Credit: Per Alström)

The newly discovered spotted wren-babbler, Elachura formosa (Credit: Per Alström)

This week a group of scientists including Trevor Price, professor of biology in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, announced that they had discovered a new family of birds containing just one species living in Asia. The new bird, now known as Elachura, had been overlooked because it was so similar to other types of wrens.

Study co-author Per Alstrom from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences said Elachura sets itself apart from other birds by its distinct song. From BBC Nature:

Elachura formosa is a small perching bird – or passerine – that is found from the eastern Himalayas to southeast China.

Prof Alstrom describes it as “extremely secretive and difficult to observe, as it usually hides in very dense tangled undergrowth in the subtropical mountain forests.”

“However, during the breeding season, when the males sing their characteristic, high-pitched song, which doesn’t resemble any other continental Asian bird song, it can sometimes be seen sitting on a branch inside a bush.”

Last year we spoke to Price about his work on bird displays, i.e. elaborate plumage, songs, etc, primarily thought of as a way to attract mates. He and his colleagues found that in species of birds that form pair bonds–or stick together after they’ve mated to care for their young–both parents continue to show off their displays as a way of keeping each other invested in their offspring.

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Alstrom P., Hooper D.M., Liu Y., Olsson U., Mohan D., Gelang M., Le Manh H., Zhao J., Lei F. & Price T.D. & (2014). Discovery of a relict lineage and monotypic family of passerine birds, Biology Letters, 10 (3) 20131067-20131067. DOI:

About Matt Wood (514 Articles)

Matt Wood is a senior science writer at the University of Chicago Medicine and nonfiction editor for Another Chicago Magazine.

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