A rare hummingbird has been rediscovered by a bird watcher in Colombia after being missing for more than a decade.
The Santa Marta saberwing, a large hummingbird found only in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains in Colombia, was last seen in 2010 and scientists feared the species could become extinct as the tropical forests that they 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. It’s only the third time the species has been documented: the first was in 1946 and the second in 2010, when researchers captured the first photos of the species in the wild.
Yurgen Vega, who spotted the hummingbird while working with conservation organizations Selva, ProCAT Colombia and the World Parrot Trust to monitor endemic birds in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, said he felt “full of emotion” when he saw the bird.
“The sighting was a complete surprise,” he said. “When I first saw the hummingbird I immediately thought of the Santa Marta saber wing. I couldn’t believe he was waiting for me there to get my camera out and start shooting. I was almost convinced that it was the species, but since I was so overwhelmed with emotion, I preferred to be cautious; it could have been the saber of Lazuline, which is often confused with the saber of Santa Marta. But once we saw the footage, we knew it was true.”
The Santa Marta saberwing is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and is listed in the top 10 “Most Wanted” list by the conservation organization Re:wild’s 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 for the American Bird Conservancy, likened the sighting to “seeing a ghost.”
The hummingbird Vega saw was a male, identified by its emerald green feathers, bright blue throat and curved black bill. He was perched on a branch, vocalizing and singing, behavior that scientists believe is associated with courtship and territory defense.
The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta in northern Colombia is home to an abundance of wildlife, including 24 species of birds found nowhere else. But scientists estimate that only 15% of the mountain forest is intact. The surprise sighting of the Santa Marta saber wing is expected to help protect its remaining habitat, benefiting the many different species found there.
“This finding confirms that we still know very little about many of the rarest and most vulnerable species out there, and it is imperative to invest more to better understand them,” said Esteban Botero-Delgadillo, director of conservation science at Selva: Research for Conservation. in the Neotropics. “It is knowledge that drives action and change, it is not possible to preserve what we do not understand.
“The next step is to go out and search 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 the local communities and local and regional environmental authorities, so that we can start a research and conservation program together that can have a real impact.”