Photo in the News: New Bird Discovered in Colombia

New brush finch photo
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October 10, 2006—This is one rebel that's been tied to a very serious cause.

The fist-size bird with punk-rock plumage is a new—and possibly threatened—avian species that makes its home in the last remnants of a remote Colombian cloud forest.

Dubbed the Yariguíes brush finch, the small bird was first found in 2004 in an isolated region of the eastern Andes mountain range known as the Serranía de los Yariguíes. The region and the finch are both named for the Yariguíes, an indigenous tribe that once inhabited the mountain forests and reportedly committed mass suicide rather than submit to Spanish colonial rule in the 1500s.

Over the past three years researchers Thomas Donegan and Blanca Huertas have regularly hiked into the remote Andes forests to help document avian species diversity. In a paper submitted in February to the Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club, Donegan and Huertas describe finding a bird that differs from other known brush finches because it has a solid black back and no white markings on its wings.

During further fieldwork in 2005 the scientists were able to capture one of the birds and take photographs and a blood sample before releasing it back to the wild. The images and DNA analysis cemented the finch's status as a new species.

"There are about two to three new birds found in the world every year," Donegan told the Associated Press. "It's a very rare event."

And the discovery of what researchers believe to be a rare bird got a conservation boost in the nick of time. Only a few months before the new brush finch was confirmed, the Colombian government had designated much of the bird's habitat as the Serranía de los Yariguíes National Park, a 193,698-acre (78,387-hectare) expanse of protected grasslands and mountain forests.

"The new protected area," Donegan and Huertas wrote in their Bulletin paper, "should assist in conserving [the Yariguíes brush finch] and other threatened species."

—Victoria Gilman

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