Blue-bearded Helmetcrest Oxypogon cyanolaemus


Justification of Red List Category
Prior to its rediscovery in March 2015, this recently-split species had not been recorded since 1946 despite several recent surveys. Extensive burning and overgrazing has severely degraded its high altitude páramo habitat, and the remaining population is inferred to be very small and declining. For these reasons the species has been classified as Critically Endangered.

Population justification
There had been no confirmed records of the species since 1946 despite a number of recent surveys, until three birds were discovered in March 2015. Even in the early 20th century it was reported to be scarce. The remaining population is presumed to be very small and has recently been estimated to number in the hundreds, based on recorded population densities of congeners (Cortes-Herrera and Villagran 2016). The population estimate is placed here in the band 50-249 mature individuals.

Trend justification
The species's population is suspected to have declined owing to extensive and severe habitat loss and degradation caused by extensive burning, overgrazing and deforestation. The species's area of habitat has been estimated to have declined by 10.6% and it is likely that the species's population decline has been greater than this due to other factors such as the loss of frailejón, however it is considered that this decline has occurred over a long period of time (Cortes-Herrera and Villagran 2016). Given the paucity of records, the rate of decline has not been estimated.

Distribution and population

The species is known only from the mountains of the Santa Marta region of north-east Colombia, where three individuals were discovered in March 2015 in approximately 10 ha of fire-damaged páramo (Rojas and Vasquez 2015). It is known from at least 62 museum specimens, the most recent taken in 1946, with apparently no confirmed records in the intervening period (Collar and Salaman 2013). As long ago as the early 20th century the species was reportedly ‘found very sparingly’ and it was noted that ‘bushes and shrubbery are scarce on this páramo [Paramo de Mamarongo], hence the few birds found there' (Todd and Carriker 1922). Surveys during 1999-2003 (Strewe and Navarro 2004), brief surveys of the southern slope of the massif in February 2007 (N. Krabbe in litt. 2007) and surveys at higher elevations in December 2011 (Luna and Quevedo 2012) all failed to record the species.


Assumed to be similar to O. guerinii, though little data relating directly to this taxon. It was most recently observed at high altitude (3,930 m elevation) in small patches of habitat on steep slopes surrounded by burnt vegetation (Rojas and Vasquez 2015). It may depend on Espeletia (frailejón) as one of its most important food sources, and there is only one species of this subshrub known from Santa Marta, Libanothamnus occultus, which has been recorded from subparamo to open slopes at 3,400-­4,040 m across the massif (Cleef and Rangel 1984, Cuatrecasas 2013, in Collar and Salaman 2013). Libanothamnus occultus was sparsely distributed at the rediscovery site but was not in flower (Rojas and Vasquez 2015), instead the species was observed feeding on four species of flowering plant which are currently being identified.


The páramo of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta has undergone a high degree of destruction and degradation through conversion to livestock pasture and clearance for agricultural cultivation (Cortes-Herrera and Villagran 2016). The habitat is seriously affected by the grazing of cattle herds and pigs belonging to indigenous communities, who repeatedly burn the páramo for pasture (WWF 2013, Rojas and Vasquez 2015). In March 2015 almost all natural vegetation except grasses, in localities where the species was observed, had been destroyed by fire; foraging resources are thus likely to be spread over a very wide area of possibly hundreds of hectares (Rojas and Vasquez 2015). Indigenous communities collect L. occultus for firewood and for use in the construction of houses (Cuatrecasas 2013, in Collar and Salaman 2013; Cortes-Herrera and Villagran 2016), further drastically reducing the population of this frailejón, which is classified as Critically Endangered on the Colombian Red List (García et al. 2005) and which may be a key food source for O. cyanolaemus.

Conservation actions

Conservation and research actions in place
CITES Appendix II. The entire range falls within the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Park, which is afforded the highest level of legal protection in Colombia (Rojas and Vasquez 2015), but this has not prevented intense pressure on the páramo. 

Conservation and research actions needed
Urgent conservation action is needed to protect the species's remaining habitat. Improve the level of habitat protection within Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta National Park. Use environmental education and community engagement to raise awareness of the species and find ways to protect community interests whilst restoring and protecting remaining habitat for the species (Rojas and Vasquez 2015). Encourage sustainable livestock and land management practices. Seek to supply local people with firewood, in order to avoid further habitat destruction. Continue to search for remaining populations of the species and study their ecology and habitat use. Monitor the extent and condition of habitat.


11.2-12.7cm. Medium-sized hummingbird with prominent crest and elongated throat feathers forming a 'beard'. Crest is mostly white, and obvious white frame for the face extends from the rear of the head, around the ear coverts and down to the breast side. In the centre of the 'beard' are metallic purplish-blue feathers, and the tail has an extensive buff-white area on the outer tail feathers. No sound recordings of vocalisations, however a flight call similar to Green Violet-ear Colibri thalassinus was noted on its recent rediscovery (Rojas and Vasquez 2015). Similar spp. O. guerinii, O. lindenii, and O. stuebelii were previously lumped with the present species. O. guerinii has a white stripe on the outer retrices including the shafts, and the beard of the male is green. O. lindenii has a longer crest and greatly reduced green feathering in the beard. O. stuebelii differs in having the white areas replaced by a tan colour, a reduced crest and beard and larger whitish area on the outer rectrices.


Text account compilers
Ashpole, J, Martin, R., Sharpe, C.J., Wheatley, H., Butchart, S., Ekstrom, J., Symes, A., Taylor, J.

Cortés, O.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2020) Species factsheet: Oxypogon cyanolaemus. Downloaded from on 29/10/2020. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2020) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 29/10/2020.