June 26, 2007—Call him the Mona Lisa of the bird kingdom.
The rare recurve-billed bushbird, recently rediscovered by scientists in Colombia after a 40-year absence, sports a curving beak that gives the illusion of an enigmatic smile.
This photograph, taken by a conservationist with the Colombia-based nonprofit Fundación ProAves, is the first ever taken of a live bushbird.
The elusive species had not been spotted between 1965 and 2004, due to its limited range and remote habitats. It was seen recently in Venezuela and in a region of northeastern Colombia, where it was photographed.
Researchers found the bird in a 250-acre (101-hectare) reserve next to the Torcoroma Holy Sanctuary near the Colombian town of Ocaña, where in 1709 locals claimed they saw the image of the Virgin Mary in a tree root. The forests of the sanctuary have been protected by Catholic Church authorities in the centuries since.
The researchers also found and photographed the extremely rare Perija parakeet, of which only 30 to 50 individuals likely survive.
Deforestation and wildfires for agriculture and grazing have denuded much of the birds' habitat, conservationists say.
"[A]s more and more remote areas are being settled, the bushbird reminds us how important it is to conserve as much natural habitat as we can," said Paul Salaman of the American Bird Conservancy.
"Who knows what wonderful biodiversity is being destroyed before it has had a chance to be discovered?"