Searching for Birdlife in an Ancient ‘Forest Ocean’


Andrea Morales Rozo, who teaches biology at the Universidad de los Llanos in central Colombia, guided the team through the nets that he masterfully saved birds from harm. Ms. Morales Rozo examines the blackpoll warbler, a migratory species between the Amazon and Canada; was part of a group that recently compared museum specimens and field-caught birds, and range to the north has changed Nearly 400 miles in 45 years.

Expedition leader Dr. Cuervo offered calm and fatherly support to those at the trading desk. For example, it is not always clear how best to describe a bird’s colors, and second opinions are often sought. Was a wing “verde cafe” greenish brown? Or was the “verde olivazo” olive green? Was a female bird’s brood patch, the bare skin warming the eggs still smooth or wrinkled?

MOR-001 struggled at the hands of Ms. Soto when handing it to her colleague Jessica Díaz, a field biologist hired for expeditions. The bird was photographed and recorded. Ms. Díaz tried to remove a very small amount of blood from her carotid artery with a syringe and poured the drops into a bottle of alcohol. He then prepared to euthanasia with rapid heart compression, using his fingers to apply firm pressure to the bird’s heart. With this technique, small birds faint within seconds and die in about half a minute. Large birds are anesthetized.

Ms. Díaz kept MOR-001 under the table so she wouldn’t have to watch it; colleagues did the same when it was their turn to sacrifice a bird. “That’s not the fun part,” he said softly.

Several members of the group, including Ms Soto, refrain from sacrificing the birds, although they believe in the necessity of scientific gathering and participate in the process. “I think it’s hard for all of us,” said Miss Soto, whose loud, soft voice gave her a birdlike aura. “But it’s really hard for me. It just stabs me in the heart.” On this expedition, Ms. Soto took on other jobs on the assembly line: cutting pectoral muscle samples to be released into liquid nitrogen, vocalizing beak and feather colors, carefully labeling a leg.


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