Cebu Hawk Owl among 8 new species in int’l study of Philippines’ ‘spectacular diversity’
Cebu has its own hawk owl, one of at least eight new species of Philippine owls unveiled yesterday in a three-country event that noted the “spectacular diversity” found in the Philippines.
“This species is possibly endangered. It can only be found in small patches of forests in Cebu,” said biologist Lisa Marie Paguntalan of the Philippine Biodiversity Conservation Foundation Inc. (PBCFI).
A photo of the yellow-eyed owl, whose scientific name is Ninox Rumseyi was unveiled at the Casino Español in Cebu City by the foundation and the Philippine Business for Social Progress (PBSP) – Visayas.
The unveiling was simultaneously held in the United States and the United Kingdom, following the publication of the scientific findings in international journals.
The Cebu Hawk Owl can still be found in southern towns of Argao, Alcoy and Dalaguete, where they feed on rats, small birds and mammals, insects and small snakes.
An estimate by Cebuano biologist Geodfrey Jakosalem, who did extensive field work for over a year, estimated that only 200 pairs are left in Cebu.
With this discovery, this particular hawk owl is the third bird species endemic to Cebu – creatures that can be found nowhere else in the world.
The other two are the song bird Black Shama or siloy (Copsychus cebuensis) and the Cebu Flowerpecker (Dicaeum quadricolor) .
The addition to the biodiversity treasure chest of Cebu will hopefully bring more public awareness of nature's gifts, the need to protect their habitats and to work harder at conservation, said Joseph “Ace” Durano, former tourism secretary, and a trustee of the PBCFI, who spoke in the launching.
Dr. Pamela Rasmussen of the Michigan State University, who led the research team, said each of the new species not only differed in body size and plumage, they had unique calls.
An audio recording was played of the unique hooting sounds of different Philippine hawk owls.
William Oliver, PBCFI director, said the Philippines “supports a spectacular diversity of owls”.
In scientific terms, there are 3 families, 8 genera, 23 species and 12 subspecies, of owls in the country. Most of them- 15 species and 14 subspecies – are endemic and thus found nowhere else in the world.
Many are threatened but not well known or appreciated, he said.
At present, the only Philippine owls in the IUCN/BLI Red Listings are the Philippine eagle owl (Bubo philippensis) and the Giant scops owl (Mimizuku gurneyi) which are listed as “vulnerable.”
Thus the unveiling of new species puts more owls on the radar and provides a better chance of getting public support behind conserving the nocturnal mammals and their habitats.
With this new knowledge, “It is very important that we prevent these endangered species from advancing to the next step which is extinction,” said Jose Antonio Aboitiz, PBSP Visayas executive committee chairman.
Yesterday's event also marked the publication of the second of two major revisions of the taxonomy or classification of two Philippine endemic owls, the Philippine Scops Owl (Otus megalotis) and the Philippine Hawk Owl (Ninox philippensis).
Both species used to be regarded as a ‘complex’ of distinct and separate subspecies confined to a Philippine island or group of islands.
Because they were not considered a full-blown species, they were overlooked. None were included in the international and national listings of threatened and protected species.
A revision of the Philippine Scops Owl led by Filipino ornithologist, Dr. Hector Miranda, concluded with the elevation of all three (former) subspecies of the Philippine scops owl to full ‘species’ status – the Luzon lowland Scops-Owl (Otus megalotis), Negros or West Visayan Scops owl (Otus nigrorum) and the Mindanao lowland scops-owl.
The team of Rasmussen with US, UK and Filipino researchers accomplished a long-awaited revision of the taxonomy of the Philippine hawk owl.
This resulted in also elevating four types of owls previously considered subspecies to full ‘species’ status.
It included the first formal descriptions of two entirely new species, the Cebu Hawk Owl and Camiguin Sur Hawk Owl, and one new subspecies.
The four elevated owl species are the Luzon Hawk Owl (Ninox philippensis), Mindoro Hawk Owl (Ninox mindorensis), Romblon Hawk Owl (Ninox spilonota, comprising two subspecies, one of which is a newly described, i.e. Ninox spilonota fisheri from Tablas Island), the Mindanao Hawk Owl (Ninox spilocephala) and the Sulu Hawk Owl (Ninox reyi).- /Eileen G. Mangubat and Correspondent Jessa Chrisna Marie J. Agua