Tyrian Metaltail Hummingbird Species

The Tyrian Metaltail (Metallura tyrianthina) is a small hummingbird found in South America. With an average body length of only 9 cm and weight of 5-6 grams, it is one of the smallest hummingbird species in the world. Despite its tiny size, the Tyrian metaltail is renowned for its iridescent plumage which gives rise to its common name.

Distribution and Habitat

The Tyrian metaltail has a relatively limited distribution, being found only in certain parts of the Andes mountains in South America. Its range extends from central Peru, through Bolivia, and into northwest Argentina. The metaltail inhabits humid montane forests and elfin woodlands at elevations between 1800-3600 meters. It prefers areas with plenty of moss-covered trees, thick vegetation, and numerous small streams.

Description and Identification

The most distinctive feature of the Tyrian metaltail is the male’s brilliant plumage. The head and throat are a shining purple-red, becoming a glittering green on the lower breast. The rest of the underparts are white. The upperparts are golden green with a blue-black tail. Females are similar but less vibrant, with more grey-buff underparts. The long bill is straight and black. In poor lighting conditions, the iridescence of the plumage is lost, making the bird appear much duller.

Several other hummingbirds share parts of the Tyrian metaltail’s range, including the rainbow-bearded thornbill and the great sapphirewing. However, the Tyrian can be distinguished from these species by its smaller size, lack of any beard-like tufts, and more extensive purple-red on the head and throat.

Diet and Feeding

Like all hummingbirds, the Tyrian metaltail feeds on nectar from flowers. It favors flowers with a tubular shape which match the length of its bill. These include plants from genera such as Fuchsia, Centropogon, and Drymonia which can be found along forest streams and in clearings. The metaltail uses its long extensible tongue to drink the nectar while hovering in front of flowers.

The bird supplements its diet with small insects which are plucked from foliage or caught in mid-air. Favorite insect prey includes mosquitoes, flies, beetles, and aphids. The protein gained from eating insects is an important part of the metaltail’s nutritional requirements.

Behavior and Breeding

The Tyrian metaltail is a solitary and territorial bird. Males defend feeding territories from other males, using displays which show off their colorful plumage. Their high-pitched call, sounding like a sharp tziit, is also used to declare ownership of a territory. Females wander through several territories looking for sources of food.

Breeding occurs in the rainy season between October and April. The female builds a small cup nest on a high horizontal branch, concealing it among moss and lichens. She incubates the two white eggs for about 15-16 days until they hatch. The chicks fledge in roughly 20-23 days. Not much else is known about the Tyrian metaltail’s breeding habits and development of the young.

Population and Conservation

The Tyrian metaltail has a limited global population estimated at only 2500-9999 individuals. Its montane forest habitat has undergone degradation and fragmentation from deforestation, agricultural expansion, and human settlements. However, some protected areas exist within its range such as Manu National Park in Peru and Carrasco National Park in Bolivia. Targeted conservation efforts are needed to monitor populations and safeguard key habitats for the species.

Overall, the rare Tyrian metaltail remains a little-studied and vulnerable hummingbird. Maintaining its specialized high elevation habitat and limiting further deforestation will give the best chance for its continued survival. More research into its ecology and population trends is also required. The preservation of this unique bird with its jewel-like plumage should be a priority for South American conservation.