The Fiery-throated Metaltail (Metallura eupogon) is a small hummingbird found in the Andes mountains of Peru, Bolivia and Argentina. With its vibrant orange throat and metallic green body, it is one of the most striking hummingbirds in South America.
The Fiery-throated Metaltail measures around 8-9 cm in length and weighs 4-7 grams. As its name suggests, the most distinctive feature of this bird is its bright reddish-orange throat, which seems to glow like fire when illuminated by sunlight. The rest of the body is a shining green on the back and crown, fading to grayish underparts. The tail is long and deeply forked, with oblong outer feathers. The straight black bill is adapted for feeding on nectar from flowers. The female Fiery-throated Metaltail is similar to the male, but has slightly duller plumage overall.
Distribution and Habitat
The Fiery-throated Metaltail is found along the Andes mountains from central Peru to northwestern Argentina and Chile. Its habitat consists of high elevation cloud forests and elfin woodlands at elevations between 3000-5000 meters above sea level. It prefers areas with a rich abundance of flowering plants and scrubby vegetation. Within its limited range, it is a common and fairly widespread species.
Like most hummingbirds, the Fiery-throated Metaltail is a hyperactive, territorial bird that feeds mainly on nectar from flowers using its long, extendable tongue. It also takes small insects and spiders to meet its nutritional needs. The wings beat up to 15 times per second, allowing the bird to precisely hover in place or fly backwards and upside down – handy skills for accessing nectar from all angles.
Males perform elaborate courtship displays, flying back and forth to attract the attention of females. Once paired, the female builds a delicate cup nest out of plant down and spider webs on a low branch or tree trunk. She lays two tiny white eggs and incubates them for about 16-19 days. The chicks hatch with closed eyes and no feathers, but develop quickly on a diet of regurgitated nectar and insects. They fledge after 20-28 days in the nest.
Threats and Conservation
Major threats to the Fiery-throated Metaltail include habitat loss from deforestation, grazing, agricultural expansion and mining activities. Climate change may also impact the health of its high mountain ecosystems. However, its wide distribution provides some protection, and it remains classified as a species of Least Concern by the IUCN Red List. Protected areas have been established in parts of its range, but further habitat conservation will be needed to ensure the long-term survival of this spectacular hummingbird.
The vibrant colors and energetic nature of the Fiery-throated Metaltail have made it a symbol of vitality and joy in Andean cultures. For example, it is considered a guardian spirit for miners in Bolivia and Peru, protecting them from hazards. Its fire-like throat is said to provide light in the darkness. The indigenous Quechua people believe Metaltails disperse the morning mists, riding ahead of the sun to clear its path.
The Metaltail’s association with mining and mountains has also led to its image being used for commercial trademarks. Its likeness appears on the logo of a popular Peruvian caffeinated soda. Overall, the Fiery-throated Metaltail stands out for its vital importance to Andean forest ecosystems as well as its cultural symbolism across history. With continued conservation, its brilliant colors should continue glowing in the mountains for generations to come.