New Species of Bird Discovered, Named After Conservationist Family


Fenwick's Antpitta

Fenwick's Antpitta. Photo: ©Fundacion ProAves

(Washington, D.C. May 20, 2010) A new species of bird for science has been discovered and named after a leading conservation family. The new species of antpitta, native to Colombia, South America, was announced last night in a ceremony at the residence of the Colombian Ambassador, Carolina Barco. The bird is named Fenwick's Antpitta (Grallaria fenwickorum), after American Bird Conservancy (ABC) President George Fenwick and his family.


The announcement was made after a comprehensive two-year study and review process following the bird’s discovery in 2008. The capture and evaluation process itself was remarkable in that it is one of the first times that a new species for science has been described from an individual captured, banded, measured, photographed, sampled for DNA, and then released alive back into the wild.


“I am deeply honored by this naming. I know it reflects in equal parts on the contributions of both my family and the ABC organization, both of which have sought to further bird conservation efforts in Colombia,” Dr. George Fenwick said.


“I am especially pleased that this effort was achieved without the loss of the bird’s life. Rare and special birds such as this should not have to be sacrificed to this process,” he added.

“Your family and ABC have done much in the last 15 years in the name of Colombian bird conservation, and I look forward to continued great accomplishments in the decades to come,” said Ambassador Barco.


The bird that provided the so-called “holotype” for the description was captured in the Colibri del Sol Bird Reserve located on the Paramo del Sol massif in the western Andes of Colombia. The reserve is managed by Fundación ProAves – Colombia’s leading conservation organization and an ABC partner. The 11,322 acre reserve, founded in 2005, is known for a stunning array of threatened birds, including the Critically Endangered Dusky Starfrontlet that was rediscovered in 2004 after being “lost” for over 50 years, and which provided the initial impetus for the Fenwick family’s support to establish the bird reserve.


The new bird species inhabits a highly restricted area of montane cloud forest where dwarf bamboo thickets thrive on rich volcanic soils on the less-humid eastern-facing slopes; a habitat that has undergone extensive clearance for pasturelands in recent decades. The bird has been proposed as Critically Endangered under IUCN-World Conservation Union criteria, with a population described as extremely small and of great conservation concern, making it a priority for ABC.


Left to Right: Alonso Quevedo President of Pro Aves; Rita Fenwick, VP of Development for ABC; George Fenwick, President of ABC; and David Caro, Exec. Director of ProAves. Photo: © ABC

Fenwick's Antpitta is a medium-sized, cinnamon and gray colored, thrush-like bird, with a height of about seven inches, and a weight of only about two ounces. G.fenwickorum is distinguished from its nearest relative – the Brown-banded Antpitta – by complete lack of a brown breast band (with the breast instead being uniform slate gray) and lighter brown dorsal plumage. Its vocalizations are also distinct. The bird is shy, spending its time foraging on insects in the leaf litter, occasionally ascending to sing from bamboo stands.


The complete 21-page description of the species is available at ProAves. The authors provided special recognition to the Fenwick family – George, his wife Rita (ABC’s Vice President for Development) and their children Cyrus, Sarah, and Rachel of The Plains, Virginia – as a “…..force for conservation in the USA and across Latin America, especially Colombia. Importantly, the Fenwick family dedicated their own personal resources to support Fundación ProAves to buy and save the 731 hectares [1,820 acres] of Paramo del Sol, establish the Colibri del Sol Bird Reserve and funded the research that led to this discovery. This commitment to bird conservation has saved many bird species.”


George Fenwick received a Ph.D. in Pathobiology from Johns Hopkins University. He created American Bird Conservancy in 1994. Among the significant number of conservation achievements made by ABC under his direction are: the creation of The Latin American Bird Reserve Network that to date consists of 41 reserves dedicated to the protection of many of the rarest bird species on Earth; success in influencing federal and state land management decisions affecting birds on hundreds of millions of acres of land US-wide; and an established record of addressing human-caused threats to birds throughout the Americas, including domestic cats, pesticides, collisions with tall towers, and fisheries bycatch – an effort that has demonstrably saved millions of birds each year.


American Bird Conservancy conserves native birds and their habitats throughout the Americas by safeguarding the rarest species, conserving and restoring habitats, and reducing threats while building capacity of the bird conservation movement. ABC is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit membership organization that is consistently awarded a top, four-star rating by the independent group, Charity Navigator.


ProAves is a Colombian non-profit organization that focuses on the study and conservation of Colombian biodiversity, especially birds at risk of extinction and their habitats, in partnership with local communities. Their objective is to support and promote the protection of Colombia's incredible but endangered natural heritage with the ultimate aim of benefiting the planet and humanity.


Photos available at