A colorful, fruit-eating bird with a black mask, pale belly and scarlet breast -- never before described by science -- has been discovered by Cornell graduates following an expedition to the remote Peruvian Andes. They named it in honor of Cornell Lab of Ornithology Executive Director John W. Fitzpatrick.
The new species was discovered during a 2008 expedition led by Michael G. Harvey '08 and Glenn Seeholzer '08, both doctoral students at Louisiana State University, and Ben Winger '07, a doctoral student at the University of Chicago. They were accompanied by co-author Daniel Cáceres, a graduate of the Universidad Nacional de San Agustín in Arequipa, Peru, and local Ashéninka guides. The team discovered the barbet on a ridge of montane cloud forest in the Cerros del Sira range in the eastern Andes. Steep ridges and deep river gorges in the Andes produce many isolated habitats and microclimates that give rise to uniquely evolved species.
Though clearly a sister species of the scarlet-banded barbet, the sira barbet is readily distinguished by differences in color on the bird's flanks, lower back and thighs, and a wider, darker scarlet breast band. By comparing mitochondrial DNA sequences of the new barbet to DNA sequences of its close relatives in the genus Capito, the team secured genetic evidence that this is a new species in the barbet family. The genetic work was done by co-author Jason Weckstein at the Field Museum in Chicago.
The team chose the scientific name of the new species Capito fitzpatricki in honor of Fitzpatrick, who discovered and named seven new bird species in Peru during the 1970s and '80s.
"Fitz has inspired generations of young ornithologists in scientific discovery and conservation," said Winger. "He was behind us all the way when we presented our plan for this expedition."
The 2008 expedition was made possible by funding from a special gift to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and donations to the lab's student World Series of Birding team, the Rawlings Cornell Presidential Research Scholars, National Geographic Young Explorers' Grant and the Explorers Club.