At least since 1928, people on the Central African island of Príncipe have known this forest creature, which usually only made itself known by a short “tuu”. Almost 90 years later, scientists were able to observe who caused the call for the first time. But it is only now that Martim Melo from the University of Porto and his team have succeeded in describing the responsible scops owl in “ZooKeys” for the first time – thanks to the ranger Ceciliano do Bom Jesus, called Bikegila, who tracked down the birds in the dense rainforest of his homeland. The species was also named after him.

As a result, Melo and Co were able to collect and measure a total of four specimens of the Príncipe scops owl (Otus bikegila) for scientific purposes. The owl differs from related species in its plumage coloration and size; Genetic tests confirmed that she is unique. Their call is also particularly characteristic: a short, quickly repeated sound that is more reminiscent of insects than birds. The owls sound it especially at dusk, with couples playing it in duet.

The entire island was then surveyed to determine the distribution and population of the new species, in a second study published in Bird Conservation International. The owls probably only live in the remaining ancient lowland rainforests of Príncipe in the uninhabited southern part of the island. Overall, the distribution area probably only covers 15 square kilometers. In this small area, however, the population density of the owl is relatively high: their total is estimated at around 1000 to 1500 individuals.

Still, the scientists suggest classifying the species as critically endangered; especially as part of the area could be affected by a small hydroelectric power station despite its protected status. Overall, the scops owl is the eighth known endemic bird species on the island, which is considered exceptionally high for the area of ​​almost 140 square kilometers. Together with the main island of São Tomé, the archipelago is considered a hotspot of biodiversity with many animal and plant species that only occur here.

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