A poorly known species of hummingbird called the Santa Marta sabrewing (Campylopterus phainopeplus) has been unexpectedly rediscovered in the highlands of Colombia 13 years after it was last seen.
The Santa Marta sabrewing is a relatively large species of hummingbird in the family Trochilidae.
First collected in 1946, the bird is endemic to the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta highlands of Colombia.
Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist montane forest, subtropical or tropical high-altitude grassland, and plantations.
The Santa Marta sabrewing is so rare and elusive that it was included as one of the top 10 most wanted lost birds by the Search for Lost Birds.
The last time it had a documented sighting was in 2010, when ornithologists captured the first-ever photos of the species in the wild.
“The sighting was a complete surprise, but a very welcome one,” said Yurgen Vega, a birdwatcher who made the rediscovery while working with SELVA, ProCAT Colombia and World Parrot Trust to study endemic birds in Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta.
“As I was leaving the area where I had been working, a hummingbird caught my attention.”
“I got out my binoculars and was shocked to see that it was a Santa Marta sabrewing, and in an incredible stroke of luck the hummingbird perched on a branch giving me time to take photos and video.”
Ornithologists believe the population of the bird in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is very small and decreasing.
The species is listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, though it was historically common in the south-eastern part of the mountains.
“This rediscovery is tremendous, and it makes me hopeful that we will start to better understand this mysterious and threatened bird,” said Esteban Botero-Delgadillo, director of conservation science with SELVA: Research for Conservation in the Neotropics.
“However, we found it in an area that is unprotected, which means that it is critically important for conservationists, local communities and government institutions to work together to learn more about the hummingbirds and protect them and their habitat before it’s too late.”
The Santa Marta sabrewing may be migratory, moving up to even higher elevations in the páramo — an ecosystem of grass and shrubs — during the rainy season in search of flowering plants.
Much of the forest in the Santa Marta mountains has been cleared for agriculture, and scientists estimate that only 15% of the forest is still intact.
“The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is so incredibly biodiverse and harbors so many amazing endemic species,” said Lina Valencia, Andean countries coordinator at Re:wild.
“It’s hugely exciting to have proof that the Santa Marta sabrewing is still living in the mountains. We still have time to save it.”
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