A brief (and rather simplified) look at some of the science involved in our expedition!
Our main scientific goal is to collect data on a group of birds called “Old World Suboscines.” A little bit of background: songbirds (like robins, wrens, flycatchers, and other familiar birds) are broken into two different groups, based on the anatomy of their syringes (voiceboxes). These two groups are called the Oscines and the Suboscines.
Suboscine birds are the more “basal” group (meaning that they’re a little farther back on the tree of life). In the western hemisphere (the New World), we have Suboscines such as flycatchers (including Phoebes) and ovenbirds (the South American kind, not the one that lives in the US). There are about 1,000 species of Suboscines and the vast majority of them live in South America, but the few dozen that live in the Old World are some of the most beautiful and most interesting of the bunch.
Our target Suboscines include Pittas (family Pittidae), Broadbills (family Eurylaimidae), and Green Broadbills (family Calyptomenidae). These beautiful, colorful birds can be elusive, and their life histories are poorly known. Also, they have an interesting evolutionary history. Without going into too much detail, there are birds that look similar that may not be as closely related as we thought, and these groups are spread all over the world despite their low numbers of species, from Asia and Australia to Africa and Madagascar. There is even an Old World Suboscine that lives in the New World!
While the Old World Suboscines are our main targets, we will also be making observations of some of the other poorly known Bornean birds, including tailorbirds (which make nests by riveting leaves together), treeswifts (which look like tiny muppets), babblers, and some of the endemic birds and monospecific families* including Bornean Bristleheads, Crested Jays, and the elusive Rail-babbler.
*Translation: a monospecific family is one with a bird that is the ONLY species in its family – i.e. has no close relatives. Endemic birds live only on the island of Borneo and nowhere else in the world. Bornean Bristleheads are both monospecific and endemic to Borneo.
Our research will include taking detailed observations of the birds and their breeding behavior, taking lots of high quality photos and videos, and taking audio recordings of the birds’ vocalizations. More details about research methods later on!