Some animal species get lost. This can be due to time, or to the vast expanses of their remote habitats. Hopeful humans may search high and low hoping to catch a glimpse of the precious creatures. For decades, the Santa Marta sabrewing has been a bird-watching holy grail—the quintessential “lost bird.” Discovered in 1946 in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains of Colombia, the shimmering, iridescent creature was last seen in 2010. But a new sighting by local bird watcher Yurgen Vega has produced stunning images of the magnificent creature.
Vega was birding and researching local species in the mountains of Colombia when he turned to leave. Thankfully he spotted a Santa Marta sabrewing sitting on a nearby branch. The bird briefly posed for Vega's camera, allowing him to get an incredibly rare shot. The male bird had distinctive emerald-green feathers, a curved black bill, and an iridescent blue neck. The find was all the more special as the species is one of the top 10 most sought-after birds on the “Search for Lost Birds” quest by conservation organization re:wild.
The habitat and range of the birds are still somewhat of a mystery, but they seem to live high in the forested mountains. Researchers believe the birds are critically endangered. Esteban Botero-Delgadillo, of SELVA: Research for Conservation in the Neotropics, explained, “Perhaps the main conclusion that we can draw from this finding is that, in order to better understand this species, it will be vital to work along with the rural and Indigenous communities in the region. They have the possibility of encountering the species more often, so involving them in initiatives such as community monitoring programs will be the most efficient way to generate valuable information that contributes to conservation.”
“We still don’t understand the distribution of the species well, so it is possible that there are other locations that require urgent attention,” he added. “However, the first and foremost step is to determine where stable populations occur, so that we can identify pressures and threats to determine key areas for conservation.” Industrial activity is a huge threat to the bird's habitats, as with many other species.
John C. Mittermeier, director of threatened species outreach at American Bird Conservancy, said of the discovery, “I also hope that people see this rediscovery as a call to action for both the sabrewing—now that the species has been found, we need to act quickly to learn more about it and protect it—and for other lost bird species. There are more than a hundred species of birds around the world that are currently lost. Hopefully by working together we can find them all.”
The incredibly elusive Santa Marta sabrewing has been photographed in Colombia, the first sighting in over a decade and the second ever.