Santa Marta sawmill. Jurgen Vegay

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By Liz Kimbrough

In the mountains of Colombia, an experienced bird watcher saw an iridescent flash of blue and green. “A hummingbird caught my attention. I took my binoculars and was shocked to see that it was a Santa Marta sabre,” said Yurgen Vega. “This sighting was a complete surprise, but very welcome.”

This was only the second time the critically endangered hummingbird has had a documented sighting since 1946. The last bird was seen in 2010.

“It’s like seeing a ghost,” said John C. Mittermeier, director of endangered species outreach at the American Bird Conservancy.

A single male sawmill in Santa Marta was seen and photographed for the first time in ten years. Yurgen Vegay via Re:wild

Vega, who found the bird while working with the conservation organizations Selva, ProCAT Colombia and the World Parrot Trust to survey endemic birds in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta region, spotted the Santa Marta male beating (Campylopterus phainopeplus) and identified it when they saw it with its green feathers, iridescent blue throat, and curved black bill.

“When I first saw the hummingbird, I immediately thought of the Santa Marta sawmill. I couldn’t believe he was waiting there for me to take out my camera and start shooting,” Vega told The Guardian. “I was almost convinced it was the species, but as I felt so overcome with emotion, I preferred to be cautious; she may have been sabrewing Lazuline [Campylopterus falcatus], which is often confused with Santa Marta sabrering. But once we saw the pictures, we knew it was real.”

Ornithologists have been on high alert for the Santa Marta sabrering, which is listed as one of the 10 most wanted lost birds by Search for Lost Birds, a collaboration between Re:wild, the American Bird Conservancy and BirdLife International. None of the most sought-after birds has had a documented sighting in the wild in at least 10 years, and all (except the sawbill) are now considered lost to science. Many of these lost birds are native to biodiversity-rich areas, which are also in urgent need of protection and protection.

The Santa Marta Sabrewing was noted as one of the 10 most wanted birds lost last year. Illustration by Hilary Burn | Copyright Cornell Lab of Ornithology

“When we announced the 10 most wanted lost birds last year, we hoped it would inspire birders to look for these species,” Mittermeier said. “And as this rediscovery shows, sometimes lost species reappear when we least expect it. We hope that rediscoveries like this will inspire conservation action.”

Not much is known about Santa Marta sabers. It lives in mid-elevation moist tropical forests and is thought to be migratory, traveling to higher elevations in the paramo, an area of ​​grass and scrub, to find flowering plants to feed on in the rainy season. The population of Santa Marta sabrewings in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, researchers believe, is small and declining.

The map shows forest loss since 2015 (in pink) around the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marts mountains in Colombia.

Only about 15% of the forests in the Santa Marta Mountains are still standing, scientists estimate. The rest was cleared to make way for agriculture and development. Sabrewing Santa Marta was found in an area of ​​forest in the Santa Marta Mountains without protection.

“[This] means it is extremely important for conservationists, local communities and government institutions to work together to learn more about hummingbirds and protect them and their habitat before it is too late,” Esteban Botero- Delgadillo, director of conservation science with SELVA: Conservation Research in the Neotropics, said in a statement.

Scientists now plan to look for more individuals and stable populations of the species to understand where they live and what threats they face in the wild.

“Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is so incredibly biodiverse and hosts so many amazing endemic species,” said Lina Valencia, Andean sites coordinator at Re:wild. “It’s extremely exciting to have evidence that the Santa Marta saberrat is still living in the mountains. We still have time to save him.”

Liz Kimbrough is a staff writer for Mongabay. Find him on Twitter @lizkimbrough

Reposted with permission from Mongabay.

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