A new bird species has been discovered on the southernmost islands of the Americas, to the surprise of biologists.
Scientists have identified the Subantarctic rayadito in the Diego Ramirez Islands, which are 100 kilometers from Cape Horn in southern Chile.
The small brown bird weighs about 16 grams (about half an ounce) and has black and yellow bands along with a large bill.
The finding, reported Friday in the scientific journal Nature, highlights the importance of observing some of the most remote places on Earth.
Not only is the Diego Ramirez Archipelago geographically isolated, it also lacks predators of land mammals and woody plants, the study said.
The small group of sub-Antarctic islands has a tundra climate, which means that tree growth in the archipelago is hampered by bitter temperatures and short growing seasons.
Surviving in a harsh environment
The discovery comes as a surprise because the bird — found nesting in a place without woody plants — resembles a rayadito species that lives in the forests of southern Patagonia and lives in trunk cavities.
“There are no shrubs and no forest species, literally in the middle of the ocean a forest bird has managed to survive,” Ricardo Rozzi, an academic from the University of Magallanes in Chile and the University of North Texas and director of the Cape Horn International Center for Global Change Studies and Biocultural Conservation (CHIC) told Reuters news agency.
During the six-year study, scientists captured and measured 13 individuals on the island.
“The birds from the Diego Ramirez population were significantly heavier and larger (with a longer and wider bill and longer tarsi), but they had a significantly shorter tail,” the study said.
With the finding, researchers said the study emphasized “the need to monitor and conserve this still pristine archipelago with no exotic species,” brought in from elsewhere, mostly by humans, who then often prey on local wildlife.
In 2017, the government of Chile announced the creation of the Diego Ramírez Islands-Drake Passage Marine Park, to protect the Diego Ramirez Islands.
The park encompasses 140,000 square miles of Chile’s southern waters, starting in the Cape Horn and extending southwards to the 200 miles of Chile’s economic zone toward Antarctica.