4:26 PM PDT, June 19, 2003
Rare Bird Population Found in S. America
By RANDOLPH E. SCHMID, Associated Press Writer
WASHINGTON -- Scientists have discovered a previously unknown
population of red siskins, a bird feared to be nearing extinction in
"It was totally a surprise to us, a great shock," said Michael J.
Braun, a research scientist at the Smithsonian's National Museum of
Once widespread in the coastal mountains of Venezuela and Colombia, the
bird was nearly wiped out by trapping after it became popular both in
that region and in Europe in the 1800s.
The bird was particularly valued for its bright red feathers and in
Latin America it is known as el cardinalito, or little cardinal.
Breeders discovered that the red siskin could mate with the canary,
Braun said Thursday, providing a bright color to the formerly drab
songbird. Any canary today that has some red feathers has some siskin
genes, Braun said.
Braun said the research team was conducting a survey of birds in
little-studied Guyana -- which neighbors Venezuela -- when they came
across a population of several thousand red siskins.
That, he said, is several times the known population of the birds
elsewhere in the wild.
The discovery was made in April of 2000, he said, but was kept under
wraps until a conservation plan could be developed providing legal
protection for the birds in Guyana.
It was just a matter of time before they were discovered, he said,
because the region where they were found is increasingly being
Red siskins been protected in Venezuela since the 1940s.
The goal is not to prevent people from raising the birds in cages, he
said, but to avoid damage to the wild population.
The American Federation of Aviculture is engaged in a red siskin
recovery project, attempting to breed a large enough captive population
of the birds for the commercial market.
The discovery by Braun and Mark Robbins of the University of Kansas is
being published in the June issue of The Auk, the journal of the
American Ornithologists Union. The research is a collaboration between
the Smithsonian, the University of Kansas and the University of Guyana.
On the Net:
National Museum of Natural History: http://www.nmnh.si.edu
American Ornithologists Union: http://www.aou.org
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