The Black-billed Streamertail (Trochilus scitulus) is a species of hummingbird found in Jamaica. With its distinctive long, forked tail feathers and vibrant iridescent green plumage, this bird is considered one of the most beautiful hummingbirds in the world.
The Black-billed Streamertail is a medium-sized hummingbird, measuring about 10-12 cm in length. The most prominent feature of this species is the extremely elongated outer tail feathers on the male birds. These ribbon-like feathers can measure up to 10 cm, making the tail itself longer than the bird’s entire body. When flying, the male spreads these long tail feathers into a distinctive forked or V-shape.
The plumage of the male Black-billed Streamertail is mostly bright metallic green above, becoming bronze-green on the forehead and crown. The undersides are greyish white from the throat to belly, with an emerald band across the lower breast. The tail feathers are purplish-black, contrasting dramatically with the iridescent green body plumage. Females of the species lack the long tail streamers and are less vibrantly colored, with more dull greenish upperparts and grey breast and belly. The bill of both sexes is long, slim and markedly decurved.
Distribution and Habitat
The Black-billed Streamertail is endemic to the island of Jamaica in the Caribbean. Its natural habitats are tropical and subtropical moist lowland forests, mountain rainforests, and heavily vegetated plantations. The species occurs widely throughout Jamaica up to elevations of about 1500 m. However prime habitat tends to be along streams and rivers where flowering plants preferred for nectar feeding grow abundantly.
The Black-billed Streamertail has a global conservation status of Least Concern. However, habitat loss from deforestation remains a threat. The species also faces competition for food resources from the introduced Vervain Hummingbird and potential impacts from climate change. Efforts to protect forest habitats and creation of wildlife reserves are important for conservation of the endemic Jamaican hummingbirds.
Behavior and Ecology
Like all hummingbirds, the Black-billed Streamertail feeds on nectar from flowers using its specialized long bill and tongue. It favors heliconia, ginger, and other tubular blossoms. The bird is strongly territorial, with the male aggressively defending rich flower patches to attract mates. Besides nectar, the Black-billed Streamertail will eat small insects for essential proteins.
A remarkable adaption of this species is the ability to fly not only forwards but also backwards. This allows them to precisely maintain position while feeding at a flower, even in gusty conditions. The distinctive long tail feathers likely help with aerial agility and stabilization in flight.
Reproduction in the Black-billed Streamertail occurs from March to June. The female builds a tiny cup nest out of plant down, spider webs and lichens on a high tree branch, usually near a stream. She lays just two tiny white eggs. Incubation lasts 15-19 days. The chicks hatch with eyes closed and almost devoid of feathers. Both parents feed the nestlings with regurgitated food. The young fledge in about 22-26 days, but remain dependent on parental care for some time after leaving the nest.
Relationship to Humans
The Black-billed Streamertail’s striking beauty makes it a favorite among birdwatchers visiting Jamaica. Several reserves and ecolodges cater specifically to hummingbird enthusiasts. Seeing a male Streamertail in full iridescent plumage and long tail streaming behind it in flight is a breathtaking experience. This iconic Jamaican endemic has appeared on the island’s postage stamps and is considered a national treasure as well as tourist attraction.
While not directly threatened, the Black-billed Streamertail does face habitat pressures from development and tourism. Maintaining protected reserves with flowering plants suited to the Streamertail’s ecology aids conservation. Providing sugar water feeders also helps supplement the birds’ diet. With appropriate habitat conservation, eco-tourism promotion, and public education, the chances are good this streamer-tailed jewel of Jamaica will continue dazzling viewers for the foreseeable future.
In summary, the Black-billed Streamertail is a beautiful and unique Jamaican hummingbird renowned for its forked tail feathers and vibrant green plumage. Protecting its forest habitat and native nectar flowers are key to conserving this species into the future. With appropriate conservation measures, bird enthusiasts will hopefully continue to enjoy sighting the Black-billed Streamertail flashing its colorful streamers through Jamaican forests for many years to come.