Buff-tailed Coronet Hummingbird Species

The Buff-tailed Coronet (Boissonneaua flavescens) is a species of hummingbird found in western South America. With its shiny green plumage, long forked tail, and elegant appearance, this striking bird has captivated ornithologists and bird enthusiasts alike.

Physical Description
The buff-tailed coronet is a medium-sized hummingbird, measuring around 8-9 cm in length and weighing 5-8 grams. The male has glossy green upperparts that appear golden-green in bright light. The underparts are pale gray, and the forked tail is rufous-chestnut with wide, buff-colored outer tail feathers that give the species its name. The slender bill is black, and the legs and feet are dark gray.

The female is similar but has greener upperparts, smaller buff tail spots, and lacks the ornate throat feathers of the male. Juveniles resemble adult females but have buff edges to the body feathers.

This species shows some geographic variations in plumage across its range. The subspecies B. f. josephinae found in Peru and far northern Chile has more rufous on the tail and belly than the nominate B. f. flavescens of central Chile.

Distribution and Habitat
The buff-tailed coronet is found along the Pacific coast of South America from central Chile south to Tierra del Fuego, with isolated populations on the western slopes of the Andes as far north as Peru. Its habitat consists of open woodland, forest edges, parks and gardens from sea level up to 3000 m elevation.

This species prefers areas with flowering bushes and trees where it can forage for nectar. It particularly favors flowers of the genus Embothrium in Chile. The presence of flowers with suitable shapes for accessing nectar appears to be more important than plant species for its habitat needs.

Behavior and Ecology
The buff-tailed coronet feeds on nectar from a variety of flowers using its specialized long, slender bill. It also catches small insects in flight to obtain proteins and nutrients. To feed, it hovers in front of the flower and extends its extensible tongue to lap up nectar.

This species is territorial, with the male defending flower-rich feeding areas from intrusion by other hummingbirds. Intruders are confronted with aggressive chasing and vocalizations. Despite their small size, buff-tailed coronets are feisty and will even attack larger hummingbird species that venture into their territory.

Courtship displays by the male involve flying in U-shaped or figure-eight patterns in front of the female. If she is receptive, she will perch and allow copulation after an elaborate display. The female builds a small cup-shaped nest out of plant fibers and spider webs on a branch or in a tree fork. She lays two tiny white eggs and incubates them for about 16-19 days. The chicks hatch with eyes closed and almost no feathers but develop quickly. They are fed by the female and fledge at around 22 days old.

Conservation Status
Widespread and fairly common within its range, the buff-tailed coronet is evaluated as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Habitat loss from development and agriculture poses the main threat, but substantial populations remain in parks and protected areas. Climate change may also impact its high Andean populations. Continued protection of key breeding and feeding habitat will be important for the long-term survival of this dazzling hummingbird.

Unique Adaptations
The buff-tailed coronet possesses specialized adaptations that allow it to nectar-feed efficiently:

– Bill shape: The long, slender, slightly downturned bill matches the shape of the flowers from which it feeds. The bill length also keeps the hummer’s face from contacting pollen-coated anthers.

– Feather structure: Tiny fringes on the wing and tail feathers help keep the feathers flexible and prevent air turbulence during hovering.

– Extensible tongue: The tongue extends up to 13 cm to probe deep inside flowers when lapping up nectar. Grooves on the tongue collect and channel liquid nectar.

– High metabolism: A rapid heartbeat (up to 1,260 beats per minute) and high metabolic rate provides the energy needed for sustained hovering and active flight.

– Temperature regulation: Buff-tailed coronets are able to lower their body temperature at night by entering a torpid state to conserve energy.

– Vision: Hummingbirds can see UV light which helps them locate nectar guides on flowers. Their eyes have more cones than rods for better color vision.

Cultural Significance
The buff-tailed coronet has been celebrated in Andean folklore and art for its energetic nature and sparkling green plumage. It was considered a symbol of vitality and healing by the Mapuche people, and appeared in their mythology as a spiritual messenger bringing luck. This hummingbird adorns native pottery and textiles in its range countries of Chile, Peru, and Argentina.

In Chile today, the buff-tailed coronet remains a prominent national symbol. Its image features on the reverse of the 5,000 Chilean peso banknote and on stamps issued by the national postal service. Chilean Nobel Prize winning poets Gabriela Mistral and Pablo Neruda penned verses inspired by this charismatic little bird. As one of Chile’s unique avian jewels, the buff-tailed coronet retains an important place in the nation’s culture and biodiversity heritage.

With its elegant plumes, energetic flight, and tenacious spirit, the buff-tailed coronet truly embodies the magic of hummingbirds. Chile and neighboring countries are privileged to host this special bird, which persists and thrives from towering Andean peaks to seaside gardens. As long as its flowering habitat remains, this diminutive hummingbird will continue to dazzle bird enthusiasts and provide an iconic symbol of its native lands in South America.