Nothing gets past an eagle-eyed, carefully listening ornithologist—not even a propaganda video meant to sway an election. Manuel Sanchez, a bird-watching guide based in Ecuador, was watching just such a video shared on social media, supposedly showing three armed left-wing men from Colombia's ELN guerrilla force deep in the Colombian jungle, making known their preference for Andres Arauz, a leftist candidate for Ecuador's presidency. Except as the video went on, Sanchez heard something strange: a bird call in the background. "I recognized the whistle instantly and I knew that the video could not have been filmed in Colombia," he tells the Guardian.
In a series of tweets, Sanchez identified the noisy bird as a pale-browed tinamou, which lives only in a tiny, rare dry forest in the western part of his country, as well as northwestern Peru. He tells the Guardian that these birds aren't singers, but instead emit "short, inflected whistles." Online, he speculated about the "guerrillas" in the video: "Those 3 poor men are either guards or farm workers," he tweeted. The Guardian notes that after Sanchez's claims, others noticed typos in the video, weapons that likely wouldn't have been used by the ELN, and odd accents; the ELN itself has said it didn't have anything to do with the footage. At any rate, Sanchez hopes the commotion he caused with his debunking will at least draw a focus onto the tinamou and its at-risk habitat. "The Tumbesian dry forest we share with Peru is one of the most threatened ecosystems in the Americas," he says. (Read more birds stories.)