The Bronze-tailed Plumeleteer (Chalybura urochrysia) is a fascinating hummingbird species found in Central and South America. Characterized by its bright bronze-green plumage and distinctive elongated tail feathers, this medium-sized hummingbird has captivated ornithologists and bird enthusiasts alike.
The adult male bronze-tailed plumeleteer measures around 11–12 cm in length and weighs 5-8 grams. The female is slightly smaller at 10-11 cm. Both sexes have a long, straight black bill that makes up around a third of the bird’s total body length.
The male’s plumage is metallic bronze-green on the head, back, wings and tail. The throat is glittering green while the underparts are white with green spotting on the sides. The bird gets its name from its two distinctive racquet-shaped tail feathers that can measure up to 5 cm in the male. These elongated feathers are bronze-colored with white tips. The female is similar but has slightly shorter tail plumes and duller plumage overall.
In the wild, the bronze-tailed plumeleteer is mostly solitary and territorial. Its flight is rapid and direct. The wings make a faint humming sound in flight, from which these nectar-feeding birds get their name. The tail plumes do not seem to hinder their aerial agility.
Distribution and Habitat
The bronze-tailed plumeleteer is found from western Panama through Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and much of central-west Brazil. Its natural habitats are subtropical and tropical moist lowland forests and heavily degraded former forest land.
This species occurs at elevations up to 1,500 m in the Andean foothills. It has a scattered and fragmented distribution throughout its range, generally preferring mid-canopy and edges of primary wet lowland forest. The bird is also found near forest streams and in areas of secondary growth with flowering plants.
Diet and Feeding
Like all hummingbirds, the bronze-tailed plumeleteer feeds on nectar from flowering plants. It favors flowers with sturdy corollas that can support its weight as it hovers while feeding. Some favorite food plants include members of the Heliconia genus and other tropical ornamentals like bromeliads and verbena.
The long decurved bill is perfectly adapted for delving into long tube-shaped blossoms. The tongue is able to lap up nectar at an astonishing rate. Ultraviolet vision helps guide the birds to the richest nectar sources. In addition to nectar, small insects are also gleaned from flowers and foliage to provide protein.
Breeding and Nesting
The breeding season coincides with peak flower abundance from around February to June in Central America, and August to November in South America. Males perform elaborate courtship flights to impress females, flying in wide arcs with their tail plumes fanned out.
The female bronze-tailed plumeleteer builds a small delicate cup-shaped nest out of plant fibers bound with spider silk. It is attached to a tree limb, often overhanging water. 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 share feeding duties, regurgitating nectar and insects directly into the chicks’ mouths. Young birds fledge at around 22-26 days old.
Threats and Conservation
Habitat destruction throughout its range poses the biggest threat to the bronze-tailed plumeleteer. Deforestation for logging and agriculture has led to fragmentation of its specialized forest habitat. Climate change may also impact flowering cycles and food availability. However, the species remains fairly common in protected areas of Central and South America. Targeted reforestation efforts to restore critical corridors would help improve its long-term conservation prospects.
– The male’s elongated tail plumes make up over 40% of its total body length. Their function is likely to attract females during courtship displays.
– The bronze-tailed plumeleteer has a very fast metabolism, with an heartbeat of over 500 beats per minute. It must feed frequently on high-energy nectar to power its wings.
– Hummingbirds are the only birds able to fly backwards and hover in mid-air. The wings turn in a figure-eight pattern to accomplish this aeronautical feat.
– Specialized tongue adaptations allow hummingbirds to lap nectar at up to 13 licks per second!
– They consume over half their body weight in nectar daily and their population numbers are strongly tied to flower availability.
In summary, the bronze-tailed plumeleteer is a spectacular Latin American hummingbird renowned for its flashy plumed tail and its role as an important pollinator in tropical forest ecosystems. While not currently threatened, habitat loss necessitates ongoing conservation measures to ensure the persistence of this unique and captivating species.