Bird of the Week, June 21, 2013,
Chilean Woodstar


 

Chilean Woodstar by Jorge Herreros

 

In one of the driest deserts of the world, a tiny hummingbird with a long forked tail and violet throat guards his territory among some chañar bushes along a wash surrounded by lifeless expanses of sand and rock. This Chilean Woodstar continues to hang on, but for how long?

 

The Chilean Woodstar was once found in desert river valleys of northern Chile and southern Peru, but has only been seen in remnant habitat patches in three Chilean valleys during the last decade. During this time, the population declined by more than 80 percent, from at least 1,500 birds in 2003 to roughly 400 birds in 2012.

 

This dramatic decline led ABC and partner group AvesChile to petition the bird’s uplisting from Endangered to Critically Endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The woodstar’s decline started in the 1960s when pesticides (now discontinued) to control fruit flies were widely used. In the 1970s, the closely related Peruvian Sheartail, which competes and hybridizes with the Chilean Woodstar, expanded its range from Peru, possibly assisted by expanding agriculture and other human-related changes to the landscape.

 

Most of the Chilean Woodstar’s natural habitat has been converted to agriculture or heavily degraded, and the species now relies on a mix of native and non-native plants for feeding and nesting. ABC is currently seeking funding to expand our work with AvesChile to establish a network of small reserves where we can restore and manage habitat for the Chilean Woodstar, experiment with sheartail removal, conduct public outreach to reduce pesticide usage—and ultimately prevent the extinction of this species.

 

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Photo by Jorge Herreros; Range Map, NatureServe