Newfound Bird Is Bald

The Bare-faced Bulbul, a new species discovered in Laos, is the only known bald songbird in mainland Asia. (Image credit: Woxvold/Forktail/WCS)

Scientists have discovered a rare new bird species with a bald head.

The creature, dubbed the bare-faced bulbul, was found in Laos, and is the only known bald songbird in mainland Asia.

It's also the first time in over 100 years that a new Asian species of bulbul bird has been uncovered.

"To find a new bird species is very rare these days," said Peter Clyne, assistant director for Asia Programs at the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York. "It's not like we're finding new species of birds every year. This is certainly a highly newsworthy event."

The chrome-domed songbird was discovered by Wildlife Conservation Society scientists Will Duckworth and Rob Timmins and Iain Woxvold of the University of Melbourne as part of a project funded by a mining company, Minerals and Metals Group, that operates in the region.

The bare-faced bulbul lives in the sparse trees and sun-bleached karst limestone of the Laos lowlands.

"Its apparent restriction to rather inhospitable habitat helps to explain why such an extraordinary bird with conspicuous habits and a distinctive call has remained unnoticed for so long," Woxvold said.

About the size of a thrush, the new bird has olive green feathers on its back and a light-colored breast. Its large dark eyes dominate its bald pink face.

"Whenever you come across a bird that's bald, it's a prominent characteristic," Clyne told LiveScience. "Usually, but not always, it's thought to play some kind of a role in communication between the sexes."

The researchers describe the bird's call as a "series of whistled, dry bubbling notes."

The researchers describe the new species, whose official name is Pycnonotus hualon, in the latest issue of the Oriental Bird Club's scientific journal Forktail.

Clara Moskowitz
Clara has a bachelor's degree in astronomy and physics from Wesleyan University, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She has written for both and Live Science.