Long thought extinct, a rare breed of hummingbird was once again found deep in the Colombian highlands.
The blue-bearded helmetcrest was caught on camera for the first time – allowing scientists and bird lovers across the globe to breathe a sigh of relief that this avian wonder still exists.
The bird – a medium-sized hummingbird endemic to the mountains of the Santa Marta region of northeast Colombia – was first discovered in 1880 but has not been seen in the highlands since 2011. It was theorized that extensive burning and overgrazing that severely degraded its high-altitude habitat had killed off the remaining birds.
In 2014, International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and BirdLife International classified the species as "Critically Endangered" and possibly "Extinct."
Earlier this month, however, Carlos Julio Rojas and Christian Vásquez, two conservationists, spotted three blue-bearded helmetcrests in the wilds of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Park.
"I saw the flash of a bird screeching past me and saw it perch on a bush nearby," Rojas wrote in a paper published in the Conservación Colombiana, the Journal of the Fundación ProAves. "I managed to take a quick photo of it before it flew off. I then reviewed the photo on the camera screen and immediately recognized the strikingly-patterned hummingbird as the long-lost blue-bearded helmetcrest – I was ecstatic! After reports of searches by ornithologists failing to find this spectacular species, Christian and I were the first people alive to see it for real."
The scientist added, "We then decided to set up camp and for the next two days conducted observations around the area. We documented a total of three individuals of the helmetcrest within three tiny scattered patches of habitat on steep hillsides and surrounded by the remains of burnt vegetation."
The blue-bearded helmetcrest averages less than 5 inches in length with a prominent crest and elongated throat feathers forming a beard. The species is known only from 62 museum specimens, the most recent of which were collected in 1946 by the American ornithologist Melbourne Armstrong Carriker.