Silver-cheeked and Unique: Santa Marta Brush-Finch

Santa Marta Brush-Finch by Jeff Maw


The Santa Marta Brush-Finch is only found in the isolated Santa Marta mountain range of northern Colombia, the highest coastal mountain range in the world. This range, isolated from the Andes, is also one of the most endemic-rich regions of South America, with nearly 50 endemic bird species. Although smaller than the state of Connecticut, the Santa Marta range contains more than 630 resident bird species—more than the continental United States!


This brush-finch has a unique facial pattern, with an all-black head and contrasting silvery-grey cheek patch, set off by reddish eyes. They tend to forage at or below eye level, as is typical of brush-finches.


Although the Santa Marta Brush-Finch has a very small range, it is common within it. “These attractive brush-finches are actually quite common locally at the El Dorado Reserve, and can easily be seen feeding in open and brushy areas in the garden and along the road,” said Benjamin Skolnik, Conservation Projects Specialist at ABC.


Santa Marta Brush-Finch by Tom Friedel,


Unfortunately, the Santa Marta range has suffered severe habitat loss and degradation due to uncontrolled colonization, since it is just 12 miles from the rapidly growing coastal city of Santa Marta. ABC and Colombian partner Fundación ProAves first protected land here with the creation of the El Dorado Reserve in 2006, and has continued to add to the reserve as opportunities have arisen.


ABC is gathering with over a dozen partner groups at the El Dorado Reserve during the first week of April 2014 for a workshop on reforestation and other sustainability themes such as ecotourism.


Endemic Epicenter: El Dorado Reserve


Other bird species endemic to the Santa Marta mountain range are protected at El Dorado, including the Santa Marta Parakeet, Santa Marta Bush-Tyrant, Santa Marta Mountain-Tanager, Santa Marta Antpitta, and Santa Marta Sabrewing, documented here in 2010 for the first time in 60 years.


ABC partners protect other brush-finch species and subspecies, including the critically endangered Pale-headed Brush-Finch, in southern Ecuador and the Yariguíes Brush-Finch, discovered in 2006 and now protected in a national park adjoining the Cerulean Warbler Reserve of central Colombia.