Cordillera de Mérida

Country/Territory Venezuela
Area 23,000 km2
Altitude 300 - 4000m
Priority critical
Habitat loss moderate
Knowledge good

General characteristics

The Cordillera de Mérida is situated in north-west Venezuela, primarily in the states of Táchira, Mérida, Barinas, Trujillo, Portuguesa and Lara. The south-west end of the cordillera abuts the East Andes (EBA 038) on the border with Colombia, but is separated from them by the Táchira depression (i.e. the Torbes and Quinimari valleys). The mountains run from south-west to north-east where they terminate at Barquisimeto, the point at which the cordillera is separated from the Cordillera de la Costa Central (EBA 033) by the headwaters of the Cojedes. The EBA is centred on the high peaks of the Sierra de la Culata and Sierra Nevada, around the city of Mérida.

This area includes the full complement of altitudinal zones from the tropical lowlands, through subtropical and temperate zones, to páramo areas on the highest peaks, and the vegetation types thus vary from lowland forest up to elfin forest near the treeline, with páramo scrub and grassland above this.

Restricted-range species

Most species occupy montane evergreen forest or its edges as well as secondary habitats, although some of the birds at lower altitudes are found in more open woodland and savanna. At higher altitudes, the birds tend to be associated with elfin forest, páramo scrub and grassland, bamboo and Espeletia stands. Only one species is confined to the tropical lowland forest, and of those restricted to the tropical and subtropical zones the majority are found in other EBAs, confirming that this is primarily an EBA of highland, upper subtropical to páramo habitats (see 'Habitat associations' table), with distributions of the species often being centred on the highest peaks surrounding the city of Mérida.

Most of the species which are shared between this and other EBAs occur in the adjacent East Andes (EBA 038), although many are clearly differentiated at the subspecific level due to the isolation of the cordillera from the main Andean chain: Coeligena bonapartei eos, for example, is especially distinct (J. Fjeldså in litt. 1993). Similarly, Pyrrhura hoematotis is apparently known in this EBA from just one record representing the subspecies immarginata, the nominate form being confined to the Cordillera de la Costa Central (EBA 033) (Meyer de Schauensee and Phelps 1978). Rufous-lored Tyrannulet Phylloscartes flaviventris is known from two disjunct populations in this EBA (together with the Cordillera de la Costa Central, EBA 033) and in the Peruvian East Andean foothills (EBA 053), these almost certainly being two distinct species (Ridgely and Tudor 1994). The distributions of species at the south-westernmost end of this EBA are poorly known: Amazilia distans is known from just five (apparent) observations since its discovery in 1954, all from the area around the Táchira depression. On the East Andes side of this area (just c.30 km distant), three tropical/subtropical restricted-range species, Venezuelan Wood-quail Odontophorus columbianus, Táchira Antpitta Grallaria chthonia and Hooded Antpitta Grallaricula cucullata, are known only from records along the Chiquito river, but should perhaps be searched for within the cordillera.

Amethyst-throated Sunangel Heliangelus (amethysticollis) clarissae is treated here as a subspecies but has sometimes been considered a separate species, in which event it would be shared between this EBA and the East Andes (EBA 038) (Fjeldså and Krabbe 1990, J. Fjeldså in litt. 1993).

Species IUCN Category
Helmeted Curassow (Pauxi pauxi) EN
(Chlorostilbon alice) NR
(Heliangelus spencei) NR
(Coeligena bonapartei) NR
(Oxypogon guerinii) NR
(Amazilia distans) NR
(Chlorostilbon poortmani) NR
Orange-throated Sunangel (Heliangelus mavors) LC
Coppery-bellied Puffleg (Eriocnemis cupreoventris) NT
Narrow-tailed Emerald (Chlorostilbon stenurus) LC
Violet-chested Hummingbird (Sternoclyta cyanopectus) LC
Rusty-faced Parrot (Hapalopsittaca amazonina) VU
Red-eared Parakeet (Pyrrhura hoematotis) LC
Rose-headed Parakeet (Pyrrhura rhodocephala) LC
Great Antpitta (Grallaria excelsa) VU
Grey-naped Antpitta (Grallaria griseonucha) LC
Ochre-browed Thistletail (Asthenes coryi) LC
Merida Wren (Cistothorus meridae) LC
(Atlapetes albofrenatus) NR
Grey-throated Warbler (Myiothlypis cinereicollis) NT
White-fronted Whitestart (Myioborus albifrons) NT
Slaty-backed Hemispingus (Poospiza goeringi) VU
Grey-capped Hemispingus (Kleinothraupis reyi) NT
Fulvous-headed Tanager (Thlypopsis fulviceps) LC
Merida Flowerpiercer (Diglossa gloriosa) LC

Important Bird Areas (IBAs)
IBA Code Site Name Country
VE036 Parque Nacional Terepaima Venezuela
VE037 Parque Nacional Yacambú Venezuela
VE038 Dinira National Park and surrounding areas (Refugio de Fauna Silvestre y Reserva de Pesca Parque Nacional Dinira IBA) Venezuela
VE039 Parque Nacional Guaramacal Venezuela
VE040 Parque Nacional Sierra La Culata Venezuela
VE041 Parque Nacional Sierra Nevada Venezuela
VE042 Parque Nacional Páramos Batallón y La Negra and surrounding areas Venezuela
VE043 Parque Nacional El Tamá Venezuela
VE055 Parque Nacional Tapo-Caparo Venezuela

Threat and conservation

Some large tracts of forest still remain in a number of places, but deforestation has been severe elsewhere, with logging continuing to expand to higher areas. A major threat is the clearance of forests on the eastern slope of the EBA (e.g. in western Barinas state) for extensive cattle-ranching. The areas affected are public land (and some old coffee haciendas), with thousands of hectares cleared every year for this activity (C. J. Sharpe in litt. 1997). Agricultural colonization represents a significant threat, although many areas of páramo and temperate forest have already been cleared for cultivation, both commercial and subsistence (D. C. Wege). Mining concessions for zinc, copper and lead are being requested in Páramos del Batallón y La Negra National Park (M. L. Goodwin in litt. 1993), and may well have a detrimental impact in other areas. Proposals for road construction form potential threats to several national parks (C. J. Sharpe in litt. 1997).

This EBA is home to four threatened species. Amazilia distans is essentially a tropical species, but is so poorly known that the threats to it are difficult to assess. Both Hapalopsittaca amazonina and Hemispingus goeringi are birds of the treeline, and have suffered from the widespread loss of suitable habitat within their ranges. Pauxi pauxi, here as in other EBAs, faces the combined threats of hunting and loss of its subtropical forest habitat, which is poorly protected within this EBA. Five Key Areas for these threatened species were recently identified by Wege and Long (1995), three of which (Páramos del Batallón y La Negra, Sierras de la Culata y Nevada, and Yacambú) are currently designated as national parks. At present, only the higher zones of the Cordillera de Mérida are protected by the Páramos del Batallón y La Negra, Sierra Nevada and Sierra de la Culata National Parks (IUCN 1992a), although these appear to be inadequate to conserve the full complement of restricted-range species occurring at the various altitudes through the EBA. Yacambú National Park, at the north-east end of the cordillera, is one of the few protected tracts of tropical and subtropical forest in the EBA.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2019) Endemic Bird Areas factsheet: Cordillera de Mérida. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 21/04/2019.