‘Jaw-dropping’ videos show elusive creature — missing for decades — in Colombia

Thought to be lost to science, a small, emerald green and navy blue hummingbird has been recorded in videos in Colombia in “extremely rare” sightings, the American Bird Conservancy said.

The Santa Marta Sabrewing, one of the rarest birds on the planet, was missing for 64 years before it was photographed in 2010, the conservancy said.

After that sighting, no one saw the small bird again for 12 years, ABC said, until it was rediscovered by Yurgen Vega.

“The moment when I first found the Santa Marta Sabrewing was very emotional, I really couldn’t believe it,” Vega said in a March 25 news release from the ABC. “The adrenaline, the thrill of that moment of rediscovery, it’s hard to fully describe just how exciting it was.”

The hummingbird was unobserved for 64 years before a rare photograph caught the animal in 2010, researchers said.
The hummingbird was unobserved for 64 years before a rare photograph caught the animal in 2010, researchers said.

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The hummingbird’s elusive nature in the northern mountains of Colombia meant little to nothing was known about the species, the conservancy said — until now.

A new study, currently released as a pre-print article in the journal bioRxiv, explores the Santa Marta Sabrewing habitat and distribution of the recently rediscovered species.

As part of the study’s release, the American Bird Conservancy released two recent videos taken of the hummingbird.

“When we first highlighted the Santa Marta Sabrewing as one of the top 10 lost birds in 2021, the species was a complete enigma,” John Mittermeier, co-author of the study and director of the search for lost birds at ABC, said in the release. “Not only could no one find the sabrewing, but no one really even knew why it had become lost. Now it feels like we have cracked the code behind this amazing species and understand, for the first time, something about it and how it managed to disappear from science for most of the past hundred years. From a Lost Birds perspective, this is just about the most exciting result you can hope for!”

The researchers spent 16 months monitoring the birds in Colombia, according to the study, which has not yet been peer reviewed.

They now believe the hummingbirds live in territories year-round and don’t move between different altitudes during the year like they previously believed, the researchers said.

The team also learned more aspects of the birds’ social and breeding behavior, including the sounds they make and the way they display for one another, according to the release.

Videos and photos of the birds were called “jaw-dropping” by ABC, and they’re considered a “beacon of hope” for those trying to protect the critically endangered species.

“The Indigenous communities who own the land where the Santa Marta Sabrewing lives are stewards of the habitat for the species, and it is ultimately up to them to decide how to conserve it,” Daniel Lebbin, vice president of threatened species for ABC said in the release. “ABC and our partners want to support these communities in what they need for this conservation effort.”

Santa Marta is on the northern coast of Colombia, along the Caribbean Sea.

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