New hummingbird species in Colombia: in danger of extinction

Ornithologists recently made a spectacular scientific finding in the Andes of south-west Colombia. Encouraged by the description of a new plant, in 2005 Colombian researchers leaded by the renowned hummingbird expert and photographer L. H. Mazariegos started to explore the avifauna of the so far unknown cloud forests of Serrania del Pinche, a mountain massif rising up to nearly 3000 m a.s.l. in the western Andes of Cauca. At this time, they mist-netted some hummingbirds that remained unidentified by their discoverers at first. Subsequently, a photo identification by hummingbird specialists from Bonn, Prof. K.-L. Schuchmann, Zoological Reserch Museum A. Koenig, and Dr. A.-A. Weller, Brehm Fund, as well as further field excursions brought certainty about the birds. The new form was scientifically named Eriocnemis isabellae after the daughter of first discoverer A. Cortéz-Diago, while the English vernacular name ‘Gorgeted Puffleg’ refers to the enlarged, bicolored throat patch and the conspicuous white tibial tufts of the only 10 cm long dwarf. The basic plumage in males is blackish-green, strongly resembling that of the congener Eriocnemis nigriventris (N Ecuador). “This is certainly the most spectacular discovery of a new hummingbird during the last decade or more,” states Dr. Weller, co-author of the recently published first description in the journal Ornitologia Neotropical.

Along with the pleasure of discovering something new to science, there are serious concerns of the scientists about the future of the species and its habitat. The distributional range of the hummingbird is extremely small and isolated from the main Andes. Major threats to these forests are the increase in coca plantations and ‘slash and burn’ agriculture. About 500 ha of forest are lost in the region each year. Unfortunately, there is still no official nature reserve to prevent further forest destruction. Apart from the hummingbird, a number of rare and endangered species of animals and plants also occur in the Pinche mountains. In addition, scientists suspect to find further undiscovered species in these untouched mountain forests. Therefore, in cooperation with local authorities The Hummingbird Conservancy, BirdLife International and other organizations plan to found a new nature reserve, using the Gorgeted Puffleg as ‘flag ship’ species. This non-ordinary discovery of a new species of vertebrates was echoed widely in the international media world. You can help with your donation to the Brehm Fund that this beautiful hummingbird and other endangered, co-existing birds like the marvellous Colorful Puffleg (Eriocnemis mirabilis) can survive in future (online donation). In addition, a cooperation project with British artist Joanna Skipwith will raise further money to promote studying the hummingbird’s life history.