We Just Discovered This Bird and It's Already Almost Extinct

The blue-throated hillstar is a striking hummingbird. It’s also critically endangered.

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Sep 26 2018, 1:00pm

Image: Francisco Sonorza

Look at this bird! It’s called the blue-throated hillstar and it’s a lil ol’ hummingbird that lives in the Andes mountains of Ecuador. We didn’t even know it existed until scientists discovered it last year, but a new study published Wednesday shows some pretty depressing news: it’s critically endangered.

An illustration of the blue-throated hillstar. Image: Paul Greenfield

During a field expedition in the Andes in the spring of 2017, Francisco Sornoza-Molina, an ornithologist at the Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad in Ecuador, spotted what he thought was a young hillstar, according to the study published in the journal Ornithological Advances. But this hillstar didn’t look like any he had ever seen before, so he snapped some photos of it, and was later able to confirm that it didn’t belong to any known species—it was an undiscovered bird.

In the study, Sornoza-Molina and his colleagues detail all the taxonomy and cataloguing that’s required when describing a newly discovered species. They also measured an estimated population size for the birds, and determined that the species is likely critically endangered. Based on the number of male and female birds they were able to observe in the field, and the lack of suitable feeding and nesting habitat in the area, the researchers wrote that there are, at best, 250-750 of these birds left in the wild.

“The fate of [the blue-throated hillstar] is likely critical, with no land protection and no conservation measures known to us,” the authors wrote in the paper.

Just as quickly as we found the blue-throated hillstar, we may lose it. However, the authors note that proper conservation efforts could restore the population, and Ecuador is already drafting a conservation plan to protect it.