A rare bird species that has never been adequately studied by science will now have that situation corrected. Scientists trapped three endangered yellow-billed cotingas (Carpodectes antoniae) last month, fitted them with tracking devices and released them unharmed back into the Costra Rican wilderness.

The researchers used a nearly invisible nylon mist net to capture the birds—one female and two males—near the town of Rincon on Costa Rica's Osa Peninsula. The American Bird Conservancy (ABC) and Friends of the Osa organized the project

"This is a bird that we believe used to exist in large numbers but is now increasingly difficult to even glimpse, much less study," said ABC's Andrew Rothman in a prepared statement. "This is an outstanding opportunity to acquire information on this bird and take action to address its habitat needs now before it is too late." The species mainly exists in two areas of Costa Rica, although a few have been found in nearby Panama.

Rothman told Scientific American that this now-rare bird species has been in serious decline for the past 100 years because of the destruction of connections between mangrove swamps and native forests, both of which it relies upon for its habitat.

The three captured birds were fitted in the field with harnesses carrying radio transmitters that will allow them to be tracked over the next six to 10 months. "The transmitters themselves will not harm the birds," Rothman says, a condition the team took very seriously. "Any time a bird is captured and handled it puts irregular stress on a bird. Scientists have great responsibility in practice and in ethics in making sure conducting their work does not cause harm to the species or to individuals. With this being an endangered species that responsibility is amplified."

Researchers will now use the data from the transmitters to learn about the cotingas' home range, habitats, and feeding and reproductive behavior to develop a conservation plan for the birds.

The team will then present the plan to the Costa Rica Environmental Ministry and "further work with Ministry to implement the plan," Rothman says. "The plan would most likely outline how other business, organizations, and even individuals could be involved in the conservation of this species." The participation of businesses and other non-governmental organizations may be critical, as Costa Rica has a very small budget for conservation.

All three of the captured cotingas are now moving around the Rincon area. Researchers say they hope to capture two more to further enhance their study.

Photo: Yellow-billed Cotinga female by Karen Leavelle. Courtesy of American Bird Conservancy.