BOGOTA, Colombia – A colorful new bird has been discovered in a previously unexplored Andean cloud forest, spurring efforts to protect the area, conservation groups said Monday.
The bright yellow and red-crowned Yariguies brush-finch was named for the indigenous tribe that once inhabited the mountainous area where it was discovered.
For conservationists the discovery of the species came at a crucial time — the government has decided to set aside 500 acres of the pristine cloud forest where the bird lives to create a national park.
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"The bird was discovered in what is the last remnants of cloud forest in that region," Camila Gomez, of the Colombia conservation group ProAves, said on Monday. "There are still lots of undiscovered flora and fauna species that live in the area."
The small bird can be distinguished from its closest relative — the yellow-breasted brush finch — by its solid black back and the lack of white marks on its wings.
"There are about two to three new birds found in the world every year," Thomas Donegan, the British half of an Anglo-Colombian research duo who discovered the bird in January 2004, told The Associated Press on Monday. "It's a very rare event."
To access the bird's isolated habitat, Donegan and partner Blanca Huertas regularly hiked 12 hours into the nearly impenetrable jungle, depending on helicopters to drop off supplies at mountain peaks 10,000 feet above sea level.
"We first went to Yariguies about three years ago," Donegan said. "It's a huge patch of isolated forest that no one knew about, not even in Colombia."
The new finch, the size of a fist, is native to Colombia's eastern Andean range and considered by its discoverers to be near threatened and in need of close monitoring to prevent it from becoming endangered.
One of the two birds caught by the team was released unharmed after they took pictures and DNA samples, while the other died in captivity.
Donegan said this was one of the first time researchers were able to confirm a new bird without having to kill it.
The last new bird discovery in Colombia was a Tapaculos species found in the south last year.
With as many as 1,865 different species, Colombia has long been considered a bird watchers' paradise, albeit a risky one because of the country's four-decade-old civil war.
In 1998, rebels kidnapped four American bird watchers who were later found unharmed.