Researchers from our partner organization in Ecuador, Fundación Jocotoco, have just published important new information on the distribution, plumage, and reproductive behavior of the Endangered Esmeraldas Woodstar (Chaetocercus berlepschi) thanks to the support of Rainforest Trust and American Bird Conservancy. This tiny hummingbird, barely bigger than a bumblebee, is endemic to moist forest in the coastal lowlands and foothills of central and northern Ecuador, where it has a small range and an extremely fragmented distribution.
Although the Fundación Jocotoco researchers encountered the hummingbird most frequently in the Ayampe area, they also found small numbers at sites as far as 62 miles northward along the coast. They also discovered the first nests of the species for science. In fact, they located a total of 33 nests—a remarkable number for any species of tropical hummingbird. While monitoring these nests, the researchers made the surprising discovery that birds previously described and shown in field guide illustrations as females were actually juvenile males. The study was published in the June issue of the Wilson Journal of Ornithology. It is now known that female Esmeraldas Woodstars resemble the females of the closely related Little Woodstar (C. bombus), although with a distinct tail pattern and different head markings. This new information is critical for obtaining further reliable information on the species and will aid future researchers and conservationists taking much-needed action to save the species. Much remains to be learned about the Esmeraldas Woodstar; for example it is still not known where the species spends the non-breeding season.
The Esmeraldas Woodstar is acutely threatened by the loss of lowland and foothill moist forest. As little as 10% of these forests remain in western Ecuador and most forest patches are small fragments that may provide poor habitat. Esmeraldas Woodstars breed at a few sites in Machalilla National Park but the park does not provide suitable protection for the species. The park is subject to frequent logging and hunting, and there are even a few villages inside the park boundaries. The woodstar is not known to breed in any other protected area.
Bert Harris, one of the Jocotoco researchers, put it in the following way: “The Esmeraldas Woodstar critically needs a new protected area in its breeding range. Breeding hotspots such Ayampe are under considerable human pressure from logging, agriculture, and mining. If swift action is not taken, these key areas may become so degraded that they will no longer support breeding. Ideally the protected area should be established along the southern Manabí coast near Ayampe.”
Rainforest Trust is working with Fundación Jocotoco on developing these conservation solutions for the Esmeraldas Woodstar.