BOGOTA, Colombia – There's a new chirp in the forest but it may be choked by the slashing and burning of trees by coca farmers, researchers said.
The Gorgeted Puffleg, a rare hummingbird that boasts a plumage of violet blue and iridescent green on its throat, has been discovered living in the cloud forests of southwestern Colombia, researchers announced.
The species belongs to the Puffleg genus, which appear to have "little cotton balls above their legs," said Luis Mazariegos-Hurtado, who has spent 30 years documenting hummingbirds and founded the Colombian Hummingbird Conservancy.
The species — known by its scientific name Eriocnemis isabellae — was confirmed by two of the world's leading specialists on the puffleg, Karl L. Schuchmann, curator of ornithology at Zoological Research Museum A. Koenig in Germany, and F. Gary Stiles of the Instituto de Ciencias Naturales at Colombia's Universidad Nacional de Colombia.
Investigators caught their first glimpse of the bird while surveying a mountain ridge in the Cauca province in 2005. Braving the zone's leftist rebels and drug traffickers, they returned to confirm the sighting, researchers said Sunday.
Ornithologists are urging the government to protect the bird's tiny territory from the environmentally ruinous drugs industry, which relies on slashing and burning large tracts of land to grow illegal crops such as coca, the raw material in cocaine.
They want the government declare a natural reserve of 494,000 acres to preserve land in the area.
The Hummingbird Conservancy estimates that coca-growing and other agriculture destroys 1,235 acres of forests surrounding the Gorgeted Puffleg's habitat each year.
The zone has seen a rise in growing of illegal crops in recent years as coca farmers have arrived escaping the government's eradication program in other parts of the country.
Researchers are particularly concerned because the bird has only been spotted on one mountain ridge.
Mazariegos-Hurtado said the Gorgeted Puffleg brings to 15 the number of species of the bird, mostly found in Colombia which is home to nearly half of the world's 300-plus species of hummingbirds.
The South American country has the world's largest variety of birds, with more than 1,800 species.