Bird Hero: Karolina Araya Sandoval

Karolina Araya Sandoval grew up in the northern Chilean town of Arica, nicknamed “the City of Eternal Spring” for its Mediterranean climate and rich alluvial soil. After studying veterinary medicine in the country's south, Karolina returned home, helping with the annual monitoring program for Chile's smallest bird, the Critically Endangered Chilean Woodstar. In 2016, she founded an organization named Picaflor de Arica, the bird's Spanish name. The group works to save its namesake and other local wildlife by collaborating with communities, governments, schools, and other organizations, including ABC. Here is her story, in her own words.

The current situation with the Chilean Woodstar can be explained by a series of unfortunate events, including planes spraying malathion after a fruitfly outbreak in the 1960s, followed by intensification of agriculture that brought more frequent pesticide use and deforestation. Then, starting in 2000, networks of half-acre greenhouses.

The Chilean Woodstar now only occurs in a few deep, arid river valleys, where native habitat is dwindling. Fewer than 400 birds are believed to remain. One of our goals is to help reforest these and other areas. We are working with local schools to do that.

My biologist friend Ronny Peredo helps us look for new nesting areas. Here he uses a monitoring stick with a mirror at its tip to view a nest while the female is off feeding.

Another hummingbird called the Peruvian Sheartail arrived in the region in the 1970s, adding to the woodstar's challenges, given that there are already so few places with nectar-providing plants.

In the valleys where woodstars remain, trucks must bring in potable water. We are working with ABC to use atmospheric water generators, devices that harness moisture from the air and give water to the community. A local school will house the pilot project that we hope will provide water both for families and for propagating native plants needed for reforestation efforts benefiting the woodstar.

Award-winning watercolor painter Beatriz Benavente lives in Spain, where she specializes in scientific and bird illustration. You can follow her on Instagram.