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There could be twice as many bird species as we thought

Thought there were only 9,000? Wrong

More Stormy Weather Due To Hit UK Today Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images

There may be twice as many bird species as we thought, researchers say. We’ve just been fooled because a lot of these 18,000 birds look like each other.

For a study published in the journal PLoS One, scientists led by George Barrowclough, an ornithologist at the American Museum of Natural History, looked at a random sample of 200 bird species. By analyzing their physical characteristics, like the color and size of their methods, they found that there were nearly two different species for each of the 200 bird species. This suggests we’ve underestimated bird biodiversity by half.

One reason we’ve underestimated birds is because of how we classify “species.” The usual list counts species based on which animals can breed together and have offspring. Thing is, it’s completely possible for animals to be able to breed and still be different species — think about the horse and the donkey, which are different species but can breed to create mules.

You know what this means, bird watchers: get to work. There are more birds out there to find.