An expedition team in Venezuela led by ornithologist David Ascanio and supported by American Bird Conservancy (ABC) rediscovered the Urich’s Tyrannulet last month. The team had sightings on May 11 and 12, making them only the fourth and fifth confirmed sightings of the small flycatcher since it was first described in 1899. The second sighting was in the 1940s and the third in 2005. The new sightings were in the state of Monagas, in northeastern Venezuela.
With so few records, the Urich’s Tyrannulet is one of the most poorly known birds in South America, and since its cloud forest habitat is being cleared for agriculture, scientists fear the endemic species could soon be at risk of going extinct. The expedition team was able to prove its continued existence, capturing the first clear photos of the tyrannulet and the first-ever recording of its call, shedding light on its behavior and ecology.
“It’s like a little tiny Shrek,” says Ascanio of the olive-green bird, which is similar in color to the popular movie character. “It’s not as striking as many of the other birds in the same forest, and it has a shrill call, but if it’s there, it means that the forest is healthy. It’s aligned with the presence of all these other wonderful forest birds and other species. I was shaking with excitement when we first saw it!”
The mountains in northeastern Venezuela where the tyrannulet lives are part of a unique ecosystem home to plants and animals found nowhere else. Among these are birds such as the White-tipped Quetzal, Handsome Fruiteater, and the endangered Venezuelan Sylph, all of which the team observed in the forest with the tyrannulet.
For researchers at American Bird Conservancy and Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology, data from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s global eBird database initially helped to bring the Urich’s Tyrannulet to their attention. “Urich’s Tyrannulet was one of only 16 species of birds in all of South America that no one had reported in eBird in the past 10 years, so it immediately stood out to us as one of the most poorly known birds on the continent,” says John C. Mittermeier, director of threatened species outreach at ABC. “Considering that it is also endangered and that much of the habitat in its small range has disappeared since it was last seen, trying to find the tyrannulet and confirm that it had not gone extinct was an important conservation priority for us.” eBird also helped to highlight the lack of information regarding what the tyrannulet looks and sounds like. The bird had no sound recordings in the database and only a single blurry photograph, taken by Ascanio in 2005.
Thanks to Ascanio and his team’s discovery, some of these knowledge gaps have now been filled. For the first time, we know for certain what the Urich’s Tyrannulet looks and sounds like. Ascanio and his team have archived their observations and media in Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Macaulay Library, where it is publicly available for research and conservation efforts. Along with the new findings on where this bird lives, this information can help conservation groups begin taking steps needed to protect it.
Thanks to American Bird Conservancy for providing this news. Learn more about the rediscovery at ABC’s website.