A new reserve in Ecuador should help protect the breeding grounds of one of the rarest and smallest hummingbirds on Earth. The endangered Esmeraldas Woodstar is barely bigger than a bumblebee and lighter than a dollar bill. Its brightly colored feathers are a mix of striking violet, green, white, and copper. Local people know it as the Estrellita, which means “little star.” Its population is estimated to number only 500-1,000 individuals.
The bird was poorly known until a few years ago, when researchers discovered its primary nesting areas along the Ayampe River, on Ecuador’s Pacific coast northwest of Guayaquil. Its incredible rarity was not recognized until experts learned how to distinguish immature male and female Esmeraldas Woodstars from the similar-looking and closely related Little Woodstar.
The new Ayampe Reserve now encompasses 38 acres, characterized by semi-deciduous to evergreen moist forests. (The long-term goal is to protect roughly 600-700 acres.) The woodstar breeds at lower elevations, but the majority of the bird’s population spends the nonbreeding season (roughly from April to November) at higher elevations in the coastal cordillera. Fortunately, the adjacent 140,000-acre Machalilla National Park protects some of the nonbreeding habitat.
The reserve is vitally important for the hummingbird because it is the only known breeding site that is protected. Less than five percent of lowland western Ecuador remains forested as a result of logging, development, cattle grazing, and agriculture, and continuing habitat loss imperils the woodstar.
Fortunately, the reserve lies just outside of the primary development areas along the coast, but many local people are moving inland, where the cost of land is lower. Also, beach development requires large amounts of fresh water. In the dry season, the Ayampe River is the only available source. Fundación Jocotoco, the organization responsible for managing the reserve, is working with the nearby communities of Ayampe and Las Tunas to conserve this resource and to develop plans for sustainable tourism and community development.
The reserve was established through a cooperative effort involving Fundación Jocotoco, World Land Trust-US, American Bird Conservancy and the community of Las Tunas. To visit the Ayampe Reserve, contact Jocotours: [email protected].
This story was provided by American Bird Conservancy, a 501(c)(3), not-for-profit organization whose mission is to conserve native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. For information on birding in South America, visit Conservation Birding.
This article appeared in the June 2013 issue of BirdWatching magazine.