by Gia Yetikyel/Smithsonianmag.com
An easy way to find and identify a bird species is to listen for their unique calls. But Otus brookii brookii, a Bornean subspecies of the Rajah scops owl, hasn’t been observed by scientists since 1892, and its song is unknown, making it that much harder to find.
Now, for the first time in more than 125 years, researchers have documented the Rajah scops owl in a study published last month in the Wilson Journal of Ornithology.
In May 2016, Andy Boyce, an ecologist with the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center, carefully observed and photographed the owl in Sabah, Malaysia. Boyce was working on his Ph.D. at the time with the University of Montana, researching how different bird species behave across various elevations. In collaboration with local residents, Sabah Park officials and several individuals from indigenous communities, like the Dusun, the rediscovery took place during a 10-year study of avian evolution in the forests of Mount Kinabalu.
Boyce was safely capturing and measuring songbirds when he received a text message from Keegan Tranquillo, who is now a field biologist at Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico. Tranquillo first spotted the bird, and quickly alerted Boyce about an odd-looking owl with orange eyes.