The Songbird That Never Was

Scientists at Aberdeen University researching a rare song bird have come to the conclusion that it never existed at all but was a variant of the Icterine Greenbul.

It was back in the 1980s that the Liberian Greenbul (Phyllastrephus leucolepis) was first spotted. This area of West Africa is astounding for its important bird life and biodiversity. Unfortunately it is also an area that has been affected by conflict and war.

The scientists at Aberdeen used DNA analysis to reach their findings.


Liberian Greenbul (Photo Till Toepfer)

Professor Martin Collinson, a geneticist from the University of Aberdeen’s Institute of Medical Sciences said:

“The Liberian Greenbul has gained almost ‘mythical’ status since it was sighted in the ‘80s.”

“We can’t say definitively that the Liberian Greenbul is the same bird as the Iceterine Greenbul but we have presented enough evidence that makes any other explanation seem highly unlikely. The genetic work was performed independently by scientists here in Aberdeen and in Dresden to make sure there could be no error – we both came to the same conclusion.”

The Cavalla Forest is of global conservation significance and was recognised as an important bird and biodiversity area by BirdLife International, not only for the Liberian Greenbul but also for the presence of other globally threatened bird species, including the Vulnerable White-breasted Guineafowl and Brown-cheeked Hornbill and mammals such as Chimpanzee, Western Red Colobus Monkeys and Pygmy Hippopotamus.

The study was carried out in collaboration with scientists from the Zoological Research Museum Alexander Koenig (Bonn, Germany), Senckenberg Natural History Collections (Dresden, Germany) University of Cambridge and BirdLife International.

The Liberian Greenbul 2013 Expedition was supported with funding from the RSPB and the African Bird Club.

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