Colombia is part of a very exclusive group made up of 18 megadiverse countries –those that house the majority of the planet’s animal and plant species. This megadiversity has ranked us first in number of bird species, with more than 1,900 having been officially registered by the scientific community (this equals 20% of all the world’s bird species!), making our country a true paradise for ornithologists and any bird-watching enthusiast. Variety is such, that newer species have been discovered in recent years.
Given such diversity and considering there are 76 bird species that are only found in Colombia, we should take a peek at some of the rarest and most unique birds we have.
Baudó Oropendola (Psarocolius cassini)
This very rare bird is only found in a region of about 1,700 sq. mi., in the Choco Department, northwestern Colombia, and has been seen around isolated areas near the Baudó river. The rarity of the species and the unfortunate deforestation of its habitat have made its population amount to barely 2,500 individuals. Therefore, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified it as an endangered species. Scientists believe that there are more colonies yet to be found, in such case the picture might become a little more optimistic.
Sword-billed Hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera)
It’s not surprising that having the world’s largest number of bird species results in also having the largest number of hummingbird species. The sword-billed hummingbird is one of a kind: it is the bird with the longest beak in proportion to the body. The bird can reach up to 8 in, of which almost 5 correspond to the beak. The bill’s length is an evolutionary adaptation to help the bird feed on the nectar of long, narrow flowers.
Dusky Starfrontlet (Coeligena orina)
This extraordinary hummingbird has proven to be very elusive for the scientific community. It was first seen in the Frontino Páramo in Antioquia in the 50s. For years, the species remained a mystery, until 2004, when it was seen again in what is now the Colibrí del Sol Reserve –a protected area of 1,800 acres established to preserve this unique species. The dusky starfrontlet is 0.2 oz. in weight and 5.5 inches in length. Its Spanish name (Sun’s hummingbird) comes from the intense colors that seem to become metallic when hit by the sun. The species has been classified as critically endangered, since the current population is estimated to be only 250 individuals!
Yellow-eared Parrot (Ognorhynchus icterotis)}
In spite of bearing the colors usually associated with Brazil (that is, green and yellow), the yellow-eared parrot is 100% Colombian. How could we not have our own parrot in the middle of the tropics? In fact, Colombia harbors 5 endemic parrot species, and this guy is certainly one of the most beautiful. Named after the bright yellow patch covering its eyes, ears, forehead and chest –which contrasts with the green that extends over the rest of its body– it is usually found at high elevations in the country’s cloud and Andean forests. Its conservation status has improved over the years, but it is still considered an endangered species, due to habitat loss.
Blue-billed Curassow (Crax alberti)
Named after the light blue of his peak, this is the most endangered endemic bird species in Colombia. To date, the population is estimated to range between 250 to 1,000 individuals. Degradation and illegal crops have been largely responsible for habitat loss. Blue-billed curassows live in the tropical rainforest of the Magdalena department, an area that harbors many rare bird, reptile and monkey species. With a length of 31 to 35 inches and weighing up to 18 lb., blue-billed curassows are usually very aloof and their flight capacity is very low, so when feeling threatened, they jump onto trees to hide. Great efforts are currently being made to raise local awareness in order to protect this species and its habitat.
Without a doubt, being the country with the largest number of bird species in the world is a privilege, but it also carries a huge responsibility. If this small sample of some of the most beautiful and particular Colombian birds does not encourage you to visit us to watch them up close, perhaps getting to know their habitats and the local initiatives to protect them will.