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Rediscovered: Colombia’s Blue-bearded Helmetcrest was last seen nearly 70 years ago

Blue-bearded Helmetcrest, rediscovered in March 2015. Photo by Carlos Julio Rojas/Fundacion ProAves
Blue-bearded Helmetcrest, rediscovered in March 2015. Photo by Carlos Julio Rojas/Fundacion ProAves

A spectacular species of hummingbird last recorded in 1946 has been rediscovered in the only place it is known to occur: at high elevations in a remote part of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains, in northern Colombia.

Researchers Carlos Julio Rojas and Christian Vasquez of the Colombian bird-conservation group Fundación ProAves located Blue-bearded Helmetcrest on March 4. Over the next two days, they observed three birds within three scattered patches of habitat on steep hillsides. The patches were tiny, less than 25 acres (10 hectares).

The distinctive bird has a short crest, a dark mask, and a purplish-blue beard bordered in white. In 2013, it and the three other members of the genus Oxypogon (White-bearded, Green-bearded, and Buffy Helmetcrests) were recognized as individual species after having been lumped together as Bearded Helmetcrest since the 1940s.

Blue-bearded is one of several hummingbird species found in the páramo ecosystem, grasslands above the tree line yet below the permanent snow line. It is believed to feed on Espeletia (or Frailejon) plants, perennial shrubs that produce daisy-like flowers.

“Sadly, the survival of the Blue-bearded Helmetcrest hangs by a thread,” write Rojas and Vasquez. Approximately 50,000 indigenous people live on the mountain range; many of them manage cattle and pigs in sensitive habitats and set fires for agricultural purposes that char natural vegetation.

“It is crucial that the fires are stopped immediately,” says Rojas, “and that cattle and pigs are removed from the highest elevations to allow the fragile páramo ecosystem to recover before this unique hummingbird and its equally rare food plant become extinct.”

Read the paper

Rojas, Carlos Julio, and Christian Vasquez. Rediscovery of the Blue-bearded Helmetcrest Oxypogon cyanolaemus, a hummingbird lost for almost 70 years. Conservación Colombiana, March 2015, pages 4-7. PDF.

A version of this article appeared in our June 2015 issue. Subscribe.

Originally Published

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