- A new blue-and-green-throated hummingbird species has been discovered in a cloud forest in Colombia, and already needs protection from human encroachment, the experts who found the bird said Sunday.
Called the gorgeted puffleg, the new species is easily twice as big as the thumb-sized hummingbirds found in the eastern United States, measuring between 3.5 inches and four inches in length, its discoverers said in answer to e-mailed questions.
The name comes from the iridescent emerald green and electric blue patch on the throat -- the gorge -- on males, and from tufts of white feathers at the top of the legs, a characteristic of so-called puffleg hummers.
Ornithologists Alexander Cortes-Diago and Luis Alfonso Ortega made three sightings of the hummingbird in 2005 during surveys of mountain cloud forest in the Serrania del Pinche mountains in southwest Colombia. After the birds were seen again in 2006, photographs were sent to the Zoological Research Museum A. Koenig in Germany for confirmation.
"We immediately suspected the bird as a new species," Andre Weller of the Brehm Fund for International Bird Conservation/Zoological Research Museum A. Koenig said in a statement. "Further study has shown that this is certainly the most spectacular discovery of a new hummingbird taxon during the last decade or more."
The bird's discoverers said they went to the Serrania del Pinche on a hunch: they expected to find new amphibians and possibly new ranges for known birds, but the new hummingbird was "completely unexpected," Cortes-Diago said in a statement.
The isolated nature of the Serrania del Pinche means it may harbour more species, but it is threatened by slash-and-burn agriculture and the cultivation of coca, the plant used to make the drug cocaine.
"Destruction of habitat is the main threat caused by the migration of coca fields from the Caqueta and Putumayo areas to the Pacific," said Luis Mazariegos-Hurtado of the Hummingbird Conservancy in Colombia. He added in an e-mail that slash-and-burn agriculture is expanding in the area, and this farming technique can cause "dangerous fires that can easily burn a whole mountain."
Mazariegos said the creation of a new protected area -- a national park or sanctuary -- was needed to protect the gorgeted puffleg's habitat.
More than the fate of this flamboyantly plumed hummingbird is at stake, according to Ian Davidson of the conservation group Birdlife International. Davidson said in a statement that the gorgeted puffleg is a "flagship species" for biodiversity in this cloud forest.
"To go undiscovered for so long, the bird's range must be extremely small and fragile -- hence conservation action is undoubtedly a priority for the Serrania del Pinche," Davidson said.