The Santa Marta sabrewing, an emerald green hummingbird, has only been officially documented for the second time since its discovery in 1946
August 5, 2022
After years of efforts to locate one of the world’s 10 most sought-after bird species, the Santa Marta sabrewing has been unexpectedly rediscovered deep in the mountains of Colombia.
The little hummingbird had only been officially spotted twice: once when it was discovered in 1946 and again in 2010 when it accidentally ended up in a researcher’s mist net. Since then, it has been believed by many to be extinct.
“It’s so incredible to see photos and videos of the sabbling in Santa Marta,” John Mittermeier, director of endangered species outreach at the American Bird Conservancy, said in a press release. “It’s like seeing a ghost.”
The Lost Saber of Santa Marta has been a magnet for bird watchers desperate to make history by confirming its existence.
Many have returned home disappointed, and some may have even been teased by its elusive emerald green body and glittering blue throat, says Natalia Ocampo-Peñuela, a Colombian ornithologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Some birders took pictures of what appeared to be the sabrewing’s body, but without the tail, they were inconclusive.
“Maybe they misidentified it or maybe it has such a reduced population or specific habitat that all the birdwatchers who went out missed it,” Ocampo-Peñuela says. “It was hidden there all along!”
The rare bird was spotted singing on a branch by Yurgen Vega, who studied the area’s endemic birds with the World Parrot Trust and two conservation research organizations, SELVA and ProCAT Colombia. The unlikely sighting could ensure its survival, experts say.
Little is known about the mysterious species, except that it usually lives in neotropical forests at altitudes of 1,200 to 1,800 meters and can migrate to the cold moors during the rainy season in search of flowering plants.
The sabrewing was added to the Search for Lost Birds top 10 most searched list last year in hopes of making it.
The forests of the Sierra Nevada are under threat from agriculture and the sighting was made in an unprotected area.
Understanding the sabrewing’s habits and habitat should help inform conservation efforts, conservation advocacy groups say.
The Santa Marta Mountains are home to at least 22 endemic bird species and an oasis of biodiversity in a country that hosts more species per square kilometer than anywhere else in the world.
Confirming that the region is home to yet another endemic species strengthens the argument that the government should work with conservationists and local communities to conserve the bird, said SELVA’s Esteban Botero-Delgadillo.
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