Hummingbirds represent one of the most spectacular avian families in the world. Their fascinating and coordinated evolution with many plants has led to the formation of over 350 species (making them the second largest of any bird family in the world), occurring in a plethora of habitats from sea level up to 5,000 masl.
Among hummingbirds, the hillstar (Oreotrochilus) genus is somewhat peculiar. Native to the Andes, hillstars occur in the most rugged, isolated and inaccessible parts. Their preference for high-altitude habitats leading to numerous behavioral and physiological adaptations. Besides roosting in caves and foraging on the ground, hillstars consume up to double their weight in nectar, and spend half their lives in a hypothermic torpor – a state similar to hibernation where their metabolic rate is slowed significantly to combat the low temperatures.
Until very recently, the genus was represented by 5 taxa. However, as of a few months ago, thanks to the incredible work of Dr Francisco Sornoza-Molina and a team of international ornithologists – a new representative has been described to science: the Blue-throated Hillstar (O. cyanolaemus). Believed to have a population of less than 750 individuals, this highly endangered species is only found along bush-lined creeks and small ridges below 3,700 masl, within a 114 km² area in the south-western highlands of Ecuador.
This part of Ecuador remains poorly-explored by ornithologists, but will be one of the areas we target on our South Ecuador Endemics tour. As one of the most diverse ranges of habitats in the world, southern Ecuador plays host to a myriad of special and endemic species. Over 19 days, we will search through seven distinct habitats for these specials, among which are the newly-described and highly threatened Blue-throated Hillstar, the fantastic Jocotoco Antpitta, back from the brink Pale-headed Brushfinch, endemic El Oro Parakeet and El Oro Tapaculo, Henna-hooded Foliage-gleaner, the fabulous Long-wattled Umbrellabird, Rainbow Starfrontlet, and the extremely localized Orange-throated Tanager.
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