Following observations in January 2018, Antioquia Brushfinch has been documented in the wild in Colombia for the first time since 1971.
The brushfinch, which was only formally described as a full species in 2007, based solely on old museum specimens, had eluded scientists until it was documented for the first time in almost 50 years.
The discovery was made by Rodolfo Correa Peña on 7 January, as he was walking to Sunday mass. Crucial photos were taken the same month and, since then, Colombian researchers have found additional birds in four patches of remnant habitat, all within the municipality of San Pedro de los Milagros – which translates to Saint Peter of Miracles – in the department of Antioquia. Fewer than 20 of the Critically Endangered passerines are thought to exist.
Following a review of brushfinch specimens in South American and European collections in 2007, Antioquia Brushfinch was first described by ornithologist Thomas Donegan. Donegan noticed three specimens labelled from San Pedro de los Milagros and 'Antioquia' were marked as representing the widespread Slaty Brushfinch, but they looked different. Two of these specimens were undated, and one was collected in 1971. As a result of this discovery many searches were undertaken in the following 12 years, though none yielded results.
Wendy Willis, American Bird Conservancy's (ABC's) Deputy Director of International Programs, said: "Rodolfo Correa Peña's rediscovery of Antioquia Brushfinch – seeing it alive for the first time since it's been declared a distinct species – was a miracle. And he first spotted the brushfinch on his way to Sunday mass! It is also remarkable that this species occurs just outside the greater metropolitan area of Medellín, home to more than 3.7 million people, and that it has gone unnoticed until now."