Peruvian Piedtail Hummingbird Species

The Peruvian Piedtail (Phlogophilus harterti) is a small hummingbird found exclusively in Peru. With an average body length of 9-10 cm and weight of 5-7 grams, it is a fairly petite hummingbird species. The male Peruvian piedtail has distinctive black and white plumage, with a black hood, white breast band, and black undertail coverts that give it a ‘pied’ appearance. The female lacks the bold black and white markings, instead having grayish-brown upperparts and pale underparts with fine streaks on the throat.

The Peruvian piedtail inhabits montane forest and elfin forest at elevations between 1000-3000 meters in the Andes mountains of central Peru. Its range is extremely limited, found only in humid forests on the eastern slopes of the Cordillera Vilcabamba in the Cusco and Puno regions. It has an estimated global range of only 1300 square km. Due to habitat loss and degradation, its population is estimated at just 2500-9999 mature individuals and is classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List.

This hummingbird has adapted to thrive in cold, high-altitude environments. It has high metabolic rates and must feed frequently to survive. The Peruvian piedtail feeds on nectar from tubular flowers of epiphytic plants like bromeliads and ericaceous shrubs. It prefers flowers with corollas longer than 20 mm, into which it can insert its long bill. It also feeds on small arthropods. Males are highly territorial, using wing trills and display dives to defend rich feeding territories.

Reproduction in Peruvian piedtails occurs between October and February. The female builds a tiny cup nest out of plant fibers and spider webs, attached to a fern or moss. She lays just two tiny white eggs, which she incubates alone for 15-19 days. The chicks hatch with their eyes closed and no downy feathers. The female alone cares for the chicks, feeding them with nectar and insects, and keeping them warm at night for the first week. The chicks fledge at 20-26 days old.

Major threats facing the Peruvian piedtail are habitat loss and fragmentation. The elfin forests it inhabits are being logged, cleared, and degraded. Climate change may also shift the altitude range of its specialized habitat. With such an extremely small range and population size, any loss of habitatspace can be detrimental. Conservation efforts are focused on habitat protection, establishing protected areas, and reforestation in the Cordillera Vilcabamba range.

More research is still needed on the natural history and population sizes of the Peruvian piedtail. Its remote and inaccessible habitat makes it difficult to study. Most current knowledge comes from observations at a few accessible sites. Better understanding of its range, feeding ecology, breeding habits, and migration movements would inform future conservation actions. Tracking programs are needed to monitor population trends over time. Outreach and education for local communities is also important, as stewardship of protected forests will depend on local participation. There are significant challenges ahead for ensuring the persistence of this rare and range-restricted hummingbird. With proper habitat conservation and management, the Peruvian piedtail may continue thriving in its specialized Andean forest niche.