Lost Colombian Songbird Found Near Town Named for Miracles

Fewer Than 20 Antioquia Brushfinches are Known, and Habitat is Under Immediate Threat

The Antioquia Brushfinch had eluded observers since it was described as a new species 12 years ago. Photo credit: Sergio Chaparro-Herrera
The Antioquia Brushfinch had eluded observers since it was described as a new species 12 years ago. Photo credit: Sergio Chaparro-Herrera

The Antioquia Brushfinch, a rusty-crowned Colombian songbird described as a new species in 2007, based solely on old museum specimens, was found for the first time in the wild, according to the American Bird Conservancy.

The Antioquia Brushfinch was first described by ornithologist Thomas Donegan in 2007, after a review of brushfinch specimens in South American and European collections.

Donegan noticed three specimens labeled from San Pedro de los Milagros and “Antioquia” generally that were marked as representing the widespread Slaty Brushfinch, but looked different.

Two of these specimens were undated, and one was collected in 1971.

Lost Bird Found After 47 Years

Many feared that the species “discovered” in the museum drawers was extinct after several searches over the last 12 years failed to find it.

But then on January 7, 2018, Rodolfo Correa Peña, an undergraduate student at Universidad Nacional de Colombia, saw the bird while he was walking to Sunday Mass.

Brushfinch Discovery A Miracle!

Documenting photos were taken. Since then, Peña and his colleagues Sergio Chaparro-Herrera, Andrea Lopera-Salazar, and Juan L. Parra found additional birds in four patches of remnant habitat, all within the municipality of San Pedro de los Milagros – which translates to Saint Peter of Miracles – in the department of Antioquia.

“Rodolfo Correa Peña’s rediscovery of the Antioquia Brushfinch – seeing it alive for the first time since it’s been declared a distinct species – was a miracle. And he first spotted the brushfinch on his way to Sunday mass!” says Wendy Willis, American Bird Conservancy’s (ABC’s) Deputy Director of International Programs.

“It’s also remarkable that this species occurs just outside the greater metropolitan area of Medellín, home to more than 3.7 million people, and that it has gone unnoticed until now.”

Rodolfo Correa Peña (far right), Sergio Chaparro-Herrera (middle left), Andrea Lopera-Salazar (middle right), and Juan L. Parra (far left) rediscovered the Antioquia Brushfinch. They are standing next to a mural of this species in San Pedro de los Milagros. Photo credit: Andrea Lopera-Salazar
Rodolfo Correa Peña (far right), Sergio Chaparro-Herrera (middle left), Andrea Lopera-Salazar (middle right), and Juan L. Parra (far left) rediscovered the Antioquia Brushfinch. They are standing next to a mural of this species in San Pedro de los Milagros. Photo credit: Andrea Lopera-Salazar

Read: Vogelkop Newest Addition to Bird-of-Paradise Species

American Bird Conservancy Supports Lost Birds

ABC has supported the research team’s efforts to find more populations of the brushfinch since October 2018, as part of a larger effort to rediscover and conserve “lost” birds.

The search for new subpopulations, led by Sergio Chaparro-Herrera, continues.

Additionally, the team is investigating the bird’s breeding behavior and the possible threat of nest parasitism by Shiny Cowbirds, which lay their eggs in other birds’ nests, often to the detriment of the hosts’ own young.

This research is being conducted with support from a Skutch Research Award from the Association of Field Ornithologists.

Critically Endangered Species

Little habitat remains for the Antioquia Brushfinch, which is internationally recognized as a Critically Endangered species.

Seventy-three percent of the land cover within the municipality of San Pedro de los Milagros has been converted to cattle pasture.

Remaining habitat is under severe threat of conversion for pasture and cropland.

While four populations of this species have been identified, fewer than 20 individual birds have been found so far.

Saving Antioquia Brushfinch from Extinction

“Despite the challenges, American Bird Conservancy is quite optimistic that the Antioquia Brushfinch can be saved from extinction,” says Daniel Lebbin, ABC’s Vice President of Threatened Species.

“Colombian researchers now know what kind of habitat to search and are continuing to find more birds. This brushfinch species is persisting in fairly small patches of low scrub close to people,” he adds.

Lebbin says opportunities to protect remaining habitat patches as new reserves and to quickly restore working lands using silvipasture techniques [combining trees, forage, and livestock] hold great potential to benefit this species, but action must be taken quickly.

The researchers will describe the discovery in the scientific journal Cotinga later this year.

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