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Late bird is first of its kind

The Electronic Telegraph  Wednesday 16 August 1995  Home News

Late bird is first of its kind

By Roger Highfield, Science Editor

A CHANCE sighting of a wing protruding from a rough track in Ethiopia has
led to the discovery of a new species of bird, even though no one has
seen a whole specimen.

When Dr Roger Safford spotted it in the headlights of an expedition's
truck, he had no idea that he was on the long road towards finding a bird
new to science, one of the handful of such finds made each year.

The wing was all that could be recovered of the squashed bird, when it
was found in September 1990 during the expedition to the Nechisar Plain,
a national park in Ethiopia. 

The team from Cambridge University and the Ethiopian wildlife
conservation organisation was collecting road kills at night, when Dr
Safford, then 22, saw the wing.

Mark Telfer, who led the expedition and who is now at the University of
East Anglia, said: "It has taken five years to establish what it was."

After studies at the Natural History Museum, correspondence between
experts, and a scientific paper, classifiers have added the bird - a type
of nightjar - to the list of some 9,600 recorded bird species.

"People might think it bizarre that a new species can be claimed on the
strength of one wing," said Dr Safford. "But dinosaurs, which have not
been around for millions of years, have been identified from bones." The
real "hero" would be the one who found a live example and helped to save
the species.