A rare hummingbird has been rediscovered by an ornithologist in Colombia after being missing for more than a decade.
The Santa Marta saber, a large hummingbird found only in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains, was last seen in 2010 and scientists feared the species could be extinct as the rainforests it inhabited have been largely cleared for agriculture.
But ornithologists are celebrating the rediscovery of Campylopterus phainopeplus after an experienced local birder captured one on camera. This is only the third time the species has been documented: the first in 1946 and the second in 2010, when researchers took the first photos of the species in the wild.
Yurgen Vega, who spotted the hummingbird while working with conservation organizations selva, ProCAT Colombia and World Parrot Trust to investigate the endemic birds of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, said he felt “overwhelmed with emotion” when he saw the bird.
“The sighting was a complete surprise,” he said. “When I first saw the hummingbird I immediately thought of sabering Santa Marta. I couldn’t believe he was there waiting for me to pull out my camera and start filming. I was almost convinced it was the species, but because I felt so overwhelmed with emotion, I preferred to be on the safe side; it could have been Lazulin sabering, which is often confused with Santa Marta sabering. once we saw the pictures, we knew it was real.
The Santa Marta swordfish is listed as critically endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and is on the conservation organization’s 10 “most wanted” list. Re:wildit is Search for lost birds, a global effort to find species that have not been seen for more than 10 years. The bird is so rare and elusive that John C Mittermeier, director of endangered species outreach at the American Bird Conservancy, likened the sighting to “seeing a ghost”.
The Vega saw hummingbird was a male, identified by its emerald green feathers, bright blue throat, and curved black beak. It was perched on a branch, vocalizing and singing, behavioral scientists believe it is associated with courtship and territorial defense.
The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in northern Colombia is home to abundant wildlife, including 24 species of birds found nowhere else. But scientists estimate that only 15% of the mountain forest is intact. It is hoped that the surprise sighting of Santa Marta sabering will help protect their remaining habitat, benefiting the many different species found there.
“This discovery confirms that we still know very little about many of the most vulnerable and rare species, and more investment is needed to better understand them,” said Esteban Botero-Delgadillo, director of science at the Conservation at Selva: Research for Conservation in the Neotropics. “It is knowledge that drives action and change – what we don’t understand cannot be retained.
“The next step is to go out there and look for stable populations of this species, trying to better understand where it occurs and what the most critical threats are in situ. Of course, this must involve people from local communities and local and regional environmental authorities, so that together we can start a research and conservation program that can have a real impact.