Image: Yariguies brush-finch
Blanca Huertas  /  AP
The bright yellow and red-crowned Yariguies brush-finch was named for the indigenous tribe that once inhabited the mountainous area where it was discovered.
updated 10/9/2006 8:27:09 PM ET 2006-10-10T00:27:09

A colorful bird new to science has been discovered in a remote Andean cloud forest, spurring efforts to protect the area, conservation groups have announced.

The bright yellow and red-crowned Yariguies brush-finch was named for the indigenous tribe that once inhabited the mountainous area where it was discovered and which committed mass suicide instead of submitting to Spanish colonial rule.

The discovery, published in the Bulletin of the British Ornithologists' Club, comes at a crucial time for conservationists. Thanks in part to the discovery, the government has decided to set aside 500 acres of the pristine cloud forest where it lives to create a national park.

Yves De Soye, of U.K.-based Birdlife International, a conservation group, said "such discoveries are very important calling attention to unprotected, vulnerable areas."

The small bird can be distinguished from its closest relative by its solid black back and the lack of white marks on its wings.

"The bird was discovered in what is the last remnants of cloud forest in that region," Camila Gomez, of the Colombia conservation group ProAves, said on Monday. "There are still lots of undiscovered flora and fauna species that live in the area."

"There are about two new birds found in the world every year," Thomas Donegan, the British half of an Anglo-Colombian research duo which discovered the bird, told The Associated Press on Monday. "It's a very rare event."

To access the bird's isolated habitat, Donegan and partner Blanca Huertas regularly hiked 12 hours into the nearly impenetrable jungle, depending on helicopters to drop off supplies at mountain peaks 10,000 feet above sea level.

"We first went to Yariguies about three years ago," Donegan said. "It's a huge patch of isolated forest that no one knew about, not even in Colombia."

The new finch, the size of a fist, is native to Colombia's eastern Andean range and considered by its discoverers to be near threatened and in need of close monitoring to prevent it winding up on a list of about 100 bird species endangered in Colombia.

One of the two birds caught by the team was released unharmed after they took pictures and DNA samples, while the other died in captivity.

Donegan said this is the first time researchers were able to confirm a new bird without having to kill it.

The last new bird discovery in Colombia was a Tapaculos species found in the south last year.

With as many as 1,865 different species, Colombia has long been considered a bird watchers' paradise, albeit a risky one because of the country's four-decade-old civil war and drug trafficking.

In 1998, rebels kidnapped four American bird watchers who were later found unharmed.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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