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Hummingbird species newly discovered, already endangered

Researchers have found that a new hummingbird species discovered in 2017 is already critically endangered. The Blue-throated Hillstar, found in the Ecuadorian Andes, is vulnerable due to its small range, specialized habitat, and threats from human activity.

The hillstars are distinctive among hummingbirds due to their special adaptations to cold temperatures and high-elevation habitats in the Andes. The species was first spotted and photographed by Francisco Sornoza of Ecuador’s Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad.

After his first expedition in April of 2017, Francisco returned the following month with fellow researchers Juan Freile, Elisa Bonaccorso, Jonas Nilsson, and Niels Krabbe to investigate the potentially new hummingbirds. After confirming the novel discovery, the team named the species Oreotrochilus cyanolaemus, or the Blue-throated Hillstar, for its iridescent blue throat.

The Blue-throated Hillstar can only be found along bush-lined creeks in an area of about 100 square kilometers. The researchers estimated that there are no more than 750 individuals, and possibly fewer than 500. The hillstar’s habitat is threatened by gold mining, fire, and grazing, and its extreme circumstances make it a qualified candidate for the critically endangered list.

“Complete support from national and international conservation agencies is needed in order to save this species,” said study co-author Francisco Sornoza-Molina. “The action plan for the conservation of this bird is creating a network of protected areas along its geographic range.”

Christopher Witt is a hummingbird expert at the University of New Mexico who was not involved in the study.

“The hillstar hummingbirds occur in the most rugged, isolated, and inaccessible parts of the Andes, where they roost in caves, forage on the ground, and spend half their lives in hypothermic torpor, so the discovery of a new species in this group is incredibly exciting. This striking discovery confirms that life in the high Andes still holds many secrets to be revealed.”

“The location is fitting for a new species of hillstar, because it’s a remote, high mountain range that is isolated and is sandwiched between the ranges of two other hillstar species. The authors did a thorough job comparing the new form to its relatives in every respect.”

The study is published in The Auk: Ornithological Advances.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

Image Credit: F. Sornoza

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