The Sira Barbet: New Species of Bird from Peru

Cornell University ornithologists have discovered a colorful, fruit-eating bird with a black mask, pale belly and scarlet breast in the remote Peruvian Andes.

The Sira Barbet (Michael Harvey)

The new species, called the Sira Barbet, Capito fitzpatricki, is described in a paper published in the July issue of the Auk, the official journal of the American Ornithologists’ Union.

The barbet was discovered during a 2008 expedition led by Michael Harvey, Glenn Seeholzer and Ben Winger, young ornithologists who had recently graduated from Cornell at the time.

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 C. fitzpatricki in honor of Cornell Lab of Ornithology executive director John W. 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.”

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Bibliographic information: Seeholzer et al. 2012. A new species of barbet (Capitonidae: Capito) from the Cerros del Sira, Ucayali, Peru. The Auk, vol. 129, no. 3, July 2012; doi: 10.1525/auk.2012.11250