Santa Marta Mountains

Country/Territory Colombia
Area 11,000 km2
Altitude 600 - 5200m
Priority critical
Habitat loss major
Knowledge good

General characteristics

The Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta is an isolated mountain massif in northernmost Colombia, close to the Venezuelan border and astride the Magdalena, César and Guajira department boundaries. This glaciated granitic massif, totally isolated from the adjacent Sierra de Perijá (EBA 038 in part), comprises the highest peaks in Colombia, rising directly from the shores of the Caribbean up to 5,800 m. Originally covering all life-zones from tropical to temperate forest, and including páramo scrub and grassland (Norton 1975, Ridgely and Tudor 1989), very little original vegetation now remains unaltered, in spite of the area being a national park (see 'Threats and conservation', below). Santa Marta is adjacent to portions of Caribbean Colombia and Venezuela (EBA 035), and the boundaries between these two EBAs are becoming poorly defined due to the increasing degradation of the mountain vegetation and resultant encroachment of secondary scrub (see below).

Restricted-range species

Most of the restricted-range birds occupy relatively wide altitudinal bands between the tropical and temperate zones, where they inhabit humid forest, forest edge and a number of other associated habitats. Just three species, Crax alberti, Anthocephala floriceps and Chlorostilbon russatus are restricted to tropical-zone forest (from lowlands to 1,700 m), and two others, Oxypogon guerinii and Troglodytes monticola, are confined to treeline scrub and grassland of the upper temperate and páramo zones. Both Campylopterus phainopeplus and Ramphomicron dorsale occur up to the páramo zone, but undertake seasonal altitudinal movements to the tropical and subtropical zones on the lower slopes (Norton 1975, Hilty and Brown 1986). Another restricted-range species, Black-backed Antshrike Sakesphorus melanonotus, is considered endemic to the adjacent Caribbean Colombia and Venezuela (EBA 035) but has recently started to colonize the higher slopes of the sierra due to widespread forest clearance and the resultant spread of drier secondary vegetation.

Although the Santa Marta massif was present before the Andes rose, most of the species confined to it are recent divergences, and there are a large number of endemic subspecies present, reflecting the recent colonization and differentiation from the main Andean chain; the exceptions are Pyrrhura viridicata and Coeligena phalerata, both of which are relict species (Fjeldså and Krabbe 1990, J. Fjeldså in litt. 1993). One endemic taxon, the Santa Marta Tapaculo Scytalopus (femoralis) sanctaemartae, occurring in the undergrowth of montane forest between 1,350 and 1,700 m, is considered here to be a subspecies but has recently been recognized as a distinct species by Ridgely and Tudor (1994) and may even qualify as threatened.

Species IUCN Category
Blue-billed Curassow (Crax alberti) CR
Black-fronted Wood-quail (Odontophorus atrifrons) VU
Black-backed Thornbill (Ramphomicron dorsale) EN
(Oxypogon guerinii) NR
White-tailed Starfrontlet (Coeligena phalerata) NT
Coppery Emerald (Chlorostilbon russatus) LC
(Anthocephala floriceps) NR
Santa Marta Sabrewing (Campylopterus phainopeplus) CR
Santa Marta Woodstar (Chaetocercus astreans) LC
White-tipped Quetzal (Pharomachrus fulgidus) LC
Santa Marta Parakeet (Pyrrhura viridicata) EN
Santa Marta Antpitta (Grallaria bangsi) VU
Santa Marta Tapaculo (Scytalopus sanctaemartae) LC
Brown-rumped Tapaculo (Scytalopus latebricola) NT
Streak-capped Spinetail (Cranioleuca hellmayri) LC
Rusty-headed Spinetail (Synallaxis fuscorufa) VU
Santa Marta Bush-tyrant (Myiotheretes pernix) EN
Santa Marta Wren (Troglodytes monticola) CR
Santa Marta Brush-finch (Atlapetes melanocephalus) LC
Santa Marta Warbler (Myiothlypis basilica) VU
White-lored Warbler (Myiothlypis conspicillata) NT
Yellow-crowned Whitestart (Myioborus flavivertex) LC
Rufous-browed Conebill (Conirostrum rufum) LC
Santa Marta Mountain-tanager (Anisognathus melanogenys) LC

Important Bird Areas (IBAs)
IBA Code Site Name Country
CO004 Valle de San Salvador Colombia
CO005 Cuchilla de San Lorenzo Colombia
CO007 Valle del Río Frío Colombia
CO009 Pueblo Bello Colombia
CO010 Eco-parque Los Besotes Colombia

Threat and conservation

The Santa Marta mountains are seriously threatened by agricultural expansion, logging and burning (Dinerstein et al. 1995). The south-east slope of the sierra has been extensively deforested, and the western slopes have also suffered, primarily from clearance for illegal marijuana plantations (especially during the 1980s) which have subsequently been sprayed with herbicide by the government (L. G. Olarte in litt. 1993, L. M. Renjifo in litt. 1993). Only the forest on the northern slope is still relatively intact, although active clearance continues, and only 15% of the sierra's original vegetation remains unaltered (L. G. Olarte in litt. 1993, L. M. Renjifo in litt. 1993).

Due to this extensive deforestation, two of the endemics are now considered threatened and several more are classified as Near Threatened. Pyrrhura viridicata is thought to have a population of fewer than 5,000 individuals, now confined to less than 200 km2 of remaining habitat. Similarly, Myiotheretes pernix is uncommon within a limited altitudinal range where the available habitat is much reduced in extent (Collar et al. 1994).

This EBA is formally protected within the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Park (covering some 3,830 km2), the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Biosphere Reserve (embracing a further 3,480 km2) and Tayrona National Park (IUCN 1992a). However, as is demonstrated by the devastating loss of natural vegetation, these formal designations have done little to protect the birds of this EBA.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2021) Endemic Bird Areas factsheet: Santa Marta Mountains. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 18/09/2021.