Birds

Conservationists and communities gather to save Colombia’s rare, rediscovered bush finch

Conservationists and communities in northwest Colombia are gathering to save the recently rediscovered Antioquia Brushfinch, find new populations, and take action to protect the rapidly disappearing habitat of the critically endangered bird. Partners in this effort include local researchers and land managers supported by Colombian and international conservation organizations such as Corporación SalvaMontes, American Bird Conservancy (ABC), World Land Trust, and others.

The Antioquia Brushfinch, a rusty Colombian songbird, was described in 2007 as a new species based solely on old museum specimens. In the wild, however, this bird was able to evade scientists until it was first documented in the field in January 2018. Researchers Rodolfo Correa Peña, Sergio Chaparro-Herrera, Andrea Lopera-Salazar and Juan L. Parra published this rediscovery in Cotinga magazine in 2019. This promising news catalyzed efforts to find more individuals and make the species’ alpine bushland habitats better before the Converting to crops and pastures to protect.

“The area where the bird was rediscovered was quickly cleared for farmland. Therefore, finding additional populations and locations was critical to developing protective measures, ”said Daniel Lebbin, ABC Vice President for Endangered Species.

Antioquia Brushfinch, Copyright Manakin Nature Tours, from the Surfbirds Galleries

Subsequent search expeditions resulted in conservation efforts, including the following:

  • Sergio Chaparro-Herrera (Atlapetes Project, Universidad de Antioquia) led a team of Colombian researchers looks for the brushfinch in about 20 places near Santa Rosa de Osos and Yarumal in 2018 and 2019 with the support of ABC. Antioquia bush finches have only been found in one location near San Pedro de los Milagros, where the habitat has continued to deteriorate since then.
  • The Corporación para la Investigación y el Ecodesarrollo Regional (CIER) was carried out with the support of ABC Contacting farmers in the municipality of San Pedro de los Milagros, where the species was rediscovered to develop a participatory conservation strategy for this species in 2019. Dairy farms are the main production activity in this area. The Centro para la Investigación en Sistemas Sostenibles de Producción Agropecuaria (CIPAV) took part in this mission. The center has extensive experience working with the area dairy farmers and ranchers to improve Silvipasture practices. The farmers visited two model farms where they found out about sustainable dairy farms. This program was successful and well received by the community.
  • Guanacas Bosques de Niebla Foundation expanded the Guanacas Reserve in 2020 to 1,700 acres with additional land acquisition assistance from the World Land Trust. It has been suggested that this area could host the Antioquia Brushfinch. Since the reserve was expanded, the species has been photographed on site and spotted nearby. “In the Guanacas Reserve, the Antioquia Brushfinch has … an area that is free from the threat of habitat loss … it is a biodiversity reserve,” says José Rodrigo Castaño, founder of the Fundación Guanacas Bosques de Niebla.
  • At the end of 2019, the local nature conservation organization Corporación SalvaMontes a two-day large-scale search for the Antioquia Brushfinch in 25 locations, mainly in the northern part of the species’ known range, with 85 volunteers and support from ABC and Rainforest Trust. The species was found at eight locations, five of which were new for the species. In November 2020, SalvaMontes and his staff carried out a recount at 16 locations identified in 2019, also with the support of ABC. This time, 42 participants observed at least 19 individual Antioquia brushes over three days. Habitat loss in the region is worrying, however, and protection measures need to be developed quickly to protect the species. “In the past six months we have seen accelerated habitat loss triggered by the increase in intensive potato monocultures,” says Santiago Chiquito, project coordinator at SalvaMontes.
  • SalvaMontes followed up the search in 2019 with a Mapping and land ownership analysis The group launched a new project in December 2020 to protect 300 hectares of habitat through ten-year protection agreements with three property managers in areas with known Antioquia brushes. The habitat is protected and enriched by plantings that contain a native blueberry, which is important for the bush finch and also for human consumption.
  • Brushfinch maps created by SalvaMontes and the organization’s expertise will be of use to the Yarumal community in their efforts at Protect land that also secures the water supply. “With support from ABC, we were able to map more than 4,000 hectares using UAS (high-resolution photogrammetry) technology and identify around half of this area as a potential habitat for the species,” says Sebastian Vieira, Managing Director of SalvaMonte.

“Much remains to be done to save the Antioquian bush finch from extinction. However, given the efforts made since it was rediscovered almost three years ago and the conservation now under way, the future of this species looks much better, ”says Sussy de la Zerda. ABCs International Programs Manager.

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