Rufous-booted Racket-tail Hummingbird Species

The Rufous-booted racket-tail (Ocreatus underwoodii) is a small hummingbird found in the Andean regions of Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. With its striking iridescent green body, bright blue throat patch, and long racket-shaped tail feathers, this species is one of the most distinctive members of the hummingbird family.

Physical Description

The Rufous-booted racket-tail measures around 10-12 cm in length and weighs 4-5 grams on average. The male has brilliant emerald green upperparts and underparts, with the exception of the bright cobalt-blue gorget (throat patch). The long central tail feathers that give the bird its name are around 5 cm in length and have distinctive racket-shaped tips. Females are similar but less vibrantly colored, with more bronze-green upperparts and gray underparts, plus slightly shorter tail feathers. In both sexes, the legs and feet are pinkish-red, giving rise to the species’ name.

Distribution and Habitat

This hummingbird has a relatively small range confined to the tropical Andes mountains, occurring at elevations between 1500-3000 meters. Its breeding range extends along the Western and Central Andes from southwestern Colombia through Ecuador to northern Peru. Outside the breeding season, some individuals may migrate downslope or northwards. The rufous-booted racket-tail inhabits cloud forests and elfin forests characterized by dense vegetation and epiphyte growth. It prefers habitats with plenty of flowering plants, shrubs and small trees, often near streams or in ravines.

Feeding Ecology

Like all hummingbirds, the rufous-booted racket-tail feeds on nectar taken from a variety of brightly colored, tubular flowers. Some favored food plants include species in the Rubiaceae, Ericaceae and Bromeliaceae families. The long, slender bill allows the bird to access nectar in flowers with corollas of different shapes and sizes. While hovering in front of a flower, the hummingbird uses its extensible tongue to lap up nectar. Small arthropods such as insects may also supplement its diet, especially during the breeding season when energy requirements are higher. The rufous-booted racket-tail often feeds at flowers high in the forest canopy but may also visit lower growing plants.

Life History and Reproduction

The breeding season for this hummingbird peaks during the Andean dry season, typically from December to March. Males are territorial and use aerial displays to mark their small territories, which may contain one or more nectar-rich flowering trees. The Males perform courtship displays for visiting females, including shuttle flights and aerial maneuvers. Once paired, the female builds a tiny cup-shaped nest out of plant down and spider webs on a low horizontal branch or tree fern. She lays just two tiny white eggs, which she incubates alone for about 16-19 days. The chicks hatch with their eyes closed and barely any feathers. They are fed regurgitated food by the female and fledge at around 22 days old. Not much else is known about the life history of this species.

Conservation Status and Threats

The rufous-booted racket-tail is evaluated as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Its population trend appears to be stable and it has a relatively wide distribution in the Andes. However, due to its specialized habitat requirements it has a patchy distribution and is generally uncommon. Major threats include habitat loss and degradation from logging, mining, agriculture and infrastructure development. Climate change may also pose a threat by altering plant communities and drying out streamsides. More research and monitoring of populations is needed to better understand the conservation needs of this unique Andean hummingbird. Maintaining protected areas and undisturbed montane forest will be vital for ensuring the species persists into the future.

In summary, the rufous-booted racket-tail is a charismatic high Andean hummingbird recognized by its colorful plumage and extraordinarily elongated tail feathers. Although not currently threatened, habitat protection in its specialized mountain forest ecosystems will be important for this range restricted species. More research is needed on the biology, ecology and demography of the rufous-booted racket-tail to support conservation efforts targeting this unique hummingbird.