A decade ago, most scientists and bird-watchers believed that there were between 9,000 and 10,000 species of birds on the planet. A new study in 2016, however, led by the American Museum of Natural History, doubled that estimate, suggesting that there are 18,000 bird species in the world. One big step in the discovery of these unknown bird species was announced just several weeks ago, with the finding of a new species of hummingbird in Ecuador. Named Oreotrochilus cyanolaemus, or blue-throated hillstar, the species was discovered in the Andes by a multinational team of ornithologists from Ecuador, Venezuela, Denmark and Sweden. Dr. Francisco Sornoza-Molina of the Instituto Nacional de Biodiversida in Quito, Ecuador, and his colleagues first photographed the hillstar during fieldwork in the Ecuadorian highlands back in April of 2017; they would return later that spring to verify the finding.
The blue-throated hillstar is approximately 13 centimeters in length and has a slightly curved beak, which it uses to reach the flowers of the chuquiragua, an Ecuadorian plant known as the “flower of the Andes” or “flower of true love” that is used to brew tea. It has a rich, deep-blue neck and greenish-blue head and body feathers.
Ecuador is rich in biodiversity, containing 132 hummingbird species out of the more than 300 in the world, but that doesn’t make the discovery any less surprising. Hummingbird expert and researcher at the University of New Mexico, Dr. Christopher Witt, commented, “The hillstar hummingbirds occur in the most rugged, isolated, and inaccessible parts of the Andes, where they roost in caves, forage on the ground, and spend half their lives in hypothermic torpor, so the discovery of a new species in this group is incredibly exciting.” With estimates on the number of individuals of blue-throated hillstars varying between 250 and 750, ornithologists agree that the species is in danger of extinction, with its high-altitude habitat between the provinces of Loja and El Oro near the Pacific Ocean threatened by gold-mining, fire, and grazing. Commenting on the life-threatening conditions facing the blue-throated hillstar, Dr. Sornoza-Molina of the research team said, “Complete support from national and international conservation agencies is needed in order to save this species. The action plan for the conservation of this bird is creating a network of protected areas along its geographic range.”