By Ian Hinze
Recent field studies reveal that there are now only two areas of suitable habitat for the red siskin (Carduelis cucullata) left in Venezuela, along with a small colony of the siskins in Colombia and a feral population in Puerto Rico. The red siskin has succumb to a number of life-threatening diseases, which compounds the problems already hindering the combined work of scientists and aviculturists to both preserve essential habitat and breed the species in captivity for future release.The greatest danger of all comes from the difficult-to-diagnose avian tuberculosis.
In July of this year, the American Federation of Aviculture, in conjunction with the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine and the Schubot Center for Exotic Bird Research; the University of California at Davis College of Veterinary Medicine; and the Lincoln Park Zoo received vital grant money from the Pet Care Trust, Inc. of America to research and develop tests for avian tuberculosis in birds. Diagnosis in the live bird has hitherto been very difficult.
The red siskin, best known in aviculture for its primary use in the production of red factor canaries since the mid-1920s, has been facing possible extinction for more than five decades.In 1944, due primarily to the excessive persecution by bird-trappers to satisfy the demands of the cage-bird market, it became the first bird in the world to be protected by law.
The red siskin is the national bird of Venezuela, where it is known colloquially as 'el cardenalito' or 'little cardinal' (which is a misnomer as the bird is a true finch). However, prior to the heavy exploitation of the specie, it thrived in a wide range that extended from northeastern Colombia, across northern Venezuela and on to Trinidad.