One of the rarest “lost birds” on planet Earth has been spotted for the first time in years, giving conservationists hope that the gorgeous species might not be quite as screwed as once thought.
The Santa Marta sabrewing (Campylopterus phainopeplus) – an emerald green and electric blue hummingbird – was recently caught on camera by a local birdwatcher in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains, according to an announcement from Re:wild.
“This sighting was a complete surprise, but a very welcome one,” Yurgen Vega, who made the rediscovery studying endemic birds in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, said in a statement.
“As I was leaving the area where I had been working, a hummingbird caught my attention. I got out my binoculars and was shocked to see that it was a Santa Marta sabrewing, and in an incredible stroke of luck the hummingbird perched on a branch giving me time to take photos and video."
The species is so elusive that it’s only been documented in the wild a handful of times: once when it was first discovered by scientists in 1946 then again in 2010 when the first-ever photos of the species in the wild were taken. There's been a smattering of possible sightings over the years, but they have never been confirmed.
Fearing the bird might have fallen into extinction, the species was added to the Re:wild Search for Lost Birds project that set out to find 10 birds that haven’t had a confirmed sighting in a decade or more.
“It’s so incredible to see photos and video of the Santa Marta sabrewing,” said John C Mittermeier, director of threatened species outreach at American Bird Conservancy.
“It’s like seeing a phantom. When we announced the top 10 most wanted lost birds last year, we hoped that it would inspire birders to look for these species. And as this rediscovery shows, sometimes lost species re-emerge when we least expect it. Hopefully, rediscoveries like this will inspire conservation action."
Next to nothing is known about the Santa Marta sabrewing, except that they live in the humid neotropical forests of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains at an elevation between 1,200 to 1,800 meters (4,000 and 6,000 feet).
They’re relatively big for a hummingbird and can be distinguished by their vibrant green feathers and iridescent blue neck. They also whistle a distinctive song, which Vega heard when he captured the recent photographs.
While this sighting holds promises, the species is still in a lot of trouble and remains listed as “critically endangered” on the IUCN Red List. Researchers suspect that the population of Santa Marta sabrewings in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is very small and most likely decreasing.