Researchers seek clues to the witch bird of the Galapagos

Photograph given by the Charles Darwin Foundation of a species of vermilion flycatcher, or witch bird, in the Galapagos archipelago. EFE

Researchers seek clues to the witch bird of the Galapagos

Author: EFE
9 Nov 2020 – 0:03

Photograph provided by the Charles Darwin Foundation of a species of witch bird on a tree branch in the Galapagos archipelago, on November 7, 2020. – Photo: EFE

Experts still do not know the causes of the disappearance of the witch bird (San Cristóbal vermilion flycatcher) in San Cristóbal, as there were no studies of these birds before 2015.

Ecuadorian experts will search for the descendants of a species of the vermilion flycatcher. This bird arrived almost a million years ago to the Galapagos archipelago and they have now been lost track of on San Cristóbal Island.

Although it can be found throughout the American continent, in the Galapagos Islands there are two recognized species of the bird: Pyrocephalus dubius (from San Cristóbal) and Pyrocephalus nanus (from the entire archipelago, except San Cristóbal).

The male Galapagos vermilion flycatcher has a red head with a small black mask, a red breast and a dark dorsal body. Whereas in females, the top of the head and chest are creamy yellow. They measure about 12.5 centimeters.

With similar characteristics, the one in San Cristóbal is a little smaller, as the biologist David Anchundia has found “in museums”, since he has never been able to see the bird in its natural environment.

Few studies on the species

The experts still do not know the causes of the disappearance of the bird in San Cristóbal, because before 2015 there were no studies on these animals: “We don’t know much, we think it disappeared due to the change in food sources; we also have problems with a parasitic fly” says Anchundia.

Among the hypotheses is also the outbreak of malaria that occurred in the past in San Cristóbal.

Although the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) considers that the bird as extinct in San Cristóbal, Anchundia has “the hope of finding it again.” He says the island is large and there are sites that have not yet been well explored.

The other species of vermilion flycatcher is in the “vulnerable” category because it has already disappeared from the Floreana and Santa Fe islands, while in Santa Cruz the population “has dropped dramatically.”

On more pristine islands, like Isabela, the bird population is abundant, including the vermilion flycatcher.

A bird that evolved in Galapagos

The conservation of the vermilion flycatcher and the search for ways to reverse its decline in Galapagos is the focus of research for Anchundia’s PhD in Ecology and Conservation at the University of Vienna.

“This bird evolved here in the Galapagos. It is thought that it was migratory and that about 800,000 or a million years ago, certain individuals decided to stay in Galapagos, “he said.

Last year, they had information of a potential sighting on San Cristóbal Island, but the arrival of the pandemic prevented the movement to the area, where they hope to arrive in the coming months in search of signs.

They plan to visit the so-called transition zone of the island, characterized by the existence of lush trees, but for this they need to coordinate with the Galapagos National Park.

In 2017, this researcher surveyed the population to find out what exactly was known about the animal. Some villagers told him that they had not seen one for 40 years.

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