The Peruvian sheartail (Thaumastura cora) is a small hummingbird found exclusively in Peru. With an average body length of only 9 cm and weighing just 4-5 grams, it is one of the smallest hummingbird species in the world. This tiny bird inhabits the west Andean slopes and valleys of Peru at elevations between 1000-3000 meters.
The Peruvian sheartail has a slender body shape typical of hummingbirds. The male has vibrant green upperparts from its head to uppertail coverts. The crown and throat are a glittering violet-blue. The underparts are white from the chin down to the undertail coverts. The female is similar but has greener underparts and lacks the vivid violet-blue throat patch. The long, slender bill of both sexes is straight and black. One of the most distinguishing features of this species is the deeply forked tail, with streamer-like outer tail feathers that can measure up to 4 cm in the male. The female’s tail is also forked but less dramatically so.
Habitat and Distribution
The Peruvian sheartail is endemic to Peru and has a rather restricted range along the west Andean slopes. Its habitat consists of elfin forests, cloud forests, and mountain valleys with abundant flowering plants at elevations between 1000-3000 m. It occurs from the Department of Cajamarca in northern Peru south to the Department of Arequipa. Within this range it is locally common in some protected areas such as Abra Patricia-Alto Nieva Private Conservation Area. However, its dependence on high elevation cloud forests makes its status vulnerable, as these pristine habitats are being degraded by human activities.
Like all hummingbirds, the Peruvian sheartail subsists entirely on nectar taken from flowering plants. It uses its specialized long bill and tongue to drink nectar while hovering in front of flowers. Some favorite nectar sources include plants from the genera Bomarea, Fuchsia, and Salvia. The Peruvian sheartail will also hawk small insects caught in midair to obtain protein and nutrients.
The breeding season for the Peruvian sheartail occurs between October to April. Males perform elaborate courtship displays, flying in u-shaped patterns to impress females. Once paired, the female builds a tiny cup nest out of plant fibers and spider webs on a low branch or tree fern. She lays just two tiny white eggs. She alone incubates the eggs for about 16-19 days. Once hatched, both parents feed the chicks with insects and nectar through regurgitation. The young leave the nest at 22-26 days old.
Threats and Conservation
The Peruvian sheartail’s limited range and dependence on high elevation Andean cloud forests renders it vulnerable to habitat loss. Deforestation from land clearing for agriculture, mining, and urbanization has degraded areas of its specialized habitat. Climate change also threatens to alter its cloud forest ecosystem. This species is currently classified as Near Threatened by the IUCN Red List. Conservation actions needed include habitat protection and monitoring of wild populations. Its occurrence in some protected areas offers a degree of protection. More research is needed to better understand its total population numbers and demographics. Raising awareness and supporting reforestation efforts could also benefit the Peruvian sheartail going forward.
– The Peruvian sheartail is one of over 130 species of hummingbirds found in Peru, the second highest diversity of any country after Colombia.
– Its genus name Thaumastura comes from the Greek words ‘thauma’ meaning marvelous and ‘ura’ meaning tail, referring to its long forked tail.
– Males perform dramatic courtship displays, rapidly flying in pendulum-like u shapes to show off their colorful plumage.
– Hummingbirds have incredibly fast heart rates and metabolism to power their rapid wing beats and hovering ability. The Peruvian sheartail’s heart rate can reach up to 1,260 beats per minute!
– To conserve energy at night, the Peruvian sheartail enters a hibernation-like state called torpor where its metabolic rate and body temperature drastically decrease.
– Hummingbirds have evolved specialized tubular tongues that allow them to efficiently draw nectar from flowers. When not in use, their tongue rolls up like a tiny straw.
– The Peruvian sheartail’s tiny nest, about 3 cm wide, is stretched onto a low branch or tree fern stalk and camouflaged with lichens.
In summary, the Peruvian sheartail is a fascinating and diminutive hummingbird endemic to the Andean mountains of Peru. While locally common in parts of its range, habitat loss necessitates ongoing conservation measures for this cloud forest specialist. With its glittering violet throat, long forked tail, and energetic flight displays, the Peruvian sheartail is one of Peru’s most colorful and mesmerizing birds. Protecting its delicate high elevation ecosystem will be key to ensuring the sheartail continues to thrive in its restricted Andean home.