Scissor-tailed Hummingbird Species

The scissor-tailed hummingbird (Hylonympha macrocerca) is a relatively large hummingbird native to Central and South America. With its extraordinarily long tail feathers that can reach up to 11 cm in males, this species stands out among hummingbirds. In this article, we will explore the unique characteristics, behavior, habitat, distribution, conservation status, and symbolism of the magnificent scissor-tailed hummingbird.

Physical Description

Reaching up to 20 cm in total length, the scissor-tailed hummingbird has an average wingspan of 8-10 cm. As mentioned, the most striking feature of the male is the forked tail, with long slender feathers that can spread out like a pair of scissors. In fact, the scientific name Hylonympha macrocerca means “large-tailed hummingbird”. The plumage is primarily green on the upperparts and white on the underparts, with some blue-green on the crown and throat. Females are similar but lack the long tail feathers, having a truncate tail instead. Like other hummingbirds, the scissor-tail has a slender curved bill suited for drinking nectar.

Behavior and Habitat

The scissor-tailed hummingbird is found in a variety of semi-open habitats such as forest edges, second growth, parks, and gardens from sea level up to 1200 m elevation. This species has a few interesting behavioral quirks. The males are highly territorial and perform remarkable aerial displays during the breeding season to attract females and ward off competitors. These displays involve flying high up and then diving straight down while rapidly opening and closing the tail feathers, producing a loud clicking sound through the feathers. The scissor-tail often hovers in place while feeding on nectar at flowers, using fast beating wings which allow it to fly backwards or upside down briefly.

This agile hummingbird feeds mainly on nectar but also hunts small insects on occasion. To conserve energy overnight, the scissor-tail goes into a deep sleep or torpor state by lowering its metabolism and body temperature significantly. Reproduction occurs from November to June, the female building a tiny cup nest out of plant fibers and spider webs on a branch, laying two white eggs. She incubates the eggs alone for about 16-19 days until they hatch. The chicks are fed with regurgitated food by the female and fledge at approximately 20-26 days old.

Distribution and Conservation

The scissor-tailed hummingbird has a wide distribution across South America east of the Andes including Venezuela, the Guianas, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, and northeastern Argentina. It is generally common within its broad range and therefore classified as Least Concern by the IUCN Red List. However, some localized declines have occurred from habitat loss and fragmentation. The species has a vast habitat tolerance and can thrive in modified environments, likely explaining its continued success inhabiting areas near human settlements. Preventing large-scale deforestation and maintaining native plants that provide nectar, nesting sites, and insects for food, are key conservation measures for this and other hummingbirds.

Cultural Significance

With its dramatic appearance and aerobatic displays, the scissor-tailed hummingbird has inspired indigenous cultures across its range. For the Guarani people of Paraguay and surrounding areas, this bird is a prominent spiritual messenger representing valor, intelligence, skill, and power. The forked tail symbolizes the dichotomy between the physical and spiritual worlds which can be bridged by following lessons from nature. For instance, the male’s elaborate courtship rituals demonstrate the importance of effort and devotion. This unique hummingbird reminds us to find joy in movement and nature’s boundless energy. From its etched portrayals on ancient rock walls to its place in folk songs today, the scissor-tail remains an integral part of local culture.

In conclusion, the scissor-tailed hummingbird is a marvelous species with specialized adaptations, from its agile flying to pronounced tail feathers. This iconic bird highlights the incredible diversity found in hummingbirds. As human activities continue reshaping its environment, conscious conservation efforts are key to sustaining populations of the scissor-tail and its unique ecological role as pollinator and indicator of habitat quality. Beyond material value, this hummingbird also reminds us of nature’s wonder and metaphorical lessons which have enriched indigenous cultures throughout its range.