The White-booted Racket-tail (Ocreatus underwoodii) is a medium-sized hummingbird found in tropical Central and South America. With its distinctive white-colored legs and bright, iridescent plumage, this species is one of the most visually striking members of the hummingbird family.
The white-booted racket-tail is one of over 300 species of hummingbirds found in the New World. It belongs to the large subfamily known as “typical hummingbirds”, or Trochilinae, which contains most hummingbird species. The white-booted racket-tail is placed in its own genus, Ocreatus, due to its unique morphological characteristics.
This medium-sized hummingbird reaches lengths of 11-12 cm and weighs around 6-8 grams. As its name suggests, perhaps its most distinguishing feature is its white feather “boots”. The male has mostly green upperparts, a violet-blue crown and throat, a glittering emerald green back, and a deeply forked tail. The female is similar, but less vibrantly colored.
The white-booted racket-tail occurs in tropical regions from Honduras south to Bolivia and central Brazil. It resides in a range of forested habitats up to elevations of 1200 m. This species has a widespread distribution across its range but is generally uncommon.
The white-booted racket-tail’s most obvious identifying feature is its bold white feathered legs and feet, which terminate in small feet typical to hummingbirds. No other hummingbird species shares this trait. The white coloration extends up the legs as “boots”.
When perched, the male’s violet-blue crown and throat are also highly distinctive. The back appears glittering emerald green when struck by light. The deeply forked tail is mostly greenish-bronze. When the tail feathers are spread in flight, white coloration is visible on the outer tail feathers. The female is similar but less vibrantly colored, with more dull gray tones to the head and back.
Like all hummingbirds, the white-booted racket-tail feeds on nectar taken from a variety of brightly colored tropical flowers. It uses its specialized long, slender bill to drink nectar while hovering in front of flowers. It also takes some small insects and spiders.
The wings of hummingbirds beat incredibly fast, allowing them to maneuver precisely in front of flowers. The white-booted racket-tail’s wingbeat is estimated at 12-15 beats per second. The wings rotate in a full circle so they can fly both forward and backward.
Courtship and Breeding
During courtship displays, the male white-booted racket-tail flies in repeated U-shaped patterns in order to impress watching females. If a female perches nearby, he may fly back and forth repeatedly in a pendulum motion. Like other hummingbirds, this displaying by the male occurs in species-specific flight patterns unique to its genus.
Once paired, the female constructs a tiny cup-shaped nest on a high tree branch, often overhanging water. She builds it out of soft plant fibers, bud scales, lichens, and spider webs, binding it together with strands of sticky spider silk. She lays two tiny white eggs in the delicate nest.
The female alone incubates the eggs for 15-19 days. Once hatched, the chicks are fed regurgitated food by the female. They leave the nest at 20-26 days old. The female may raise two broods in a single breeding season.
Habitat and Distribution
The white-booted racket-tail occurs from Honduras south as far as Peru, Bolivia and central Brazil. Its habitats include tropical evergreen forests, semi-deciduous forests, forest edges, clearings, and wooded gardens. It ranges up to 1200 m in elevation.
This species can be found across its range in foothill and montane forests. In Costa Rica, it also frequents mid-elevation coffee and cacao plantations. It appears to adapt readily to some habitat disturbance provided sufficient trees and foraging plants remain.
The white-booted racket-tail is currently classified as Least Concern by the IUCN. Its large geographic range and population are presumed stable. Although it may face some habitat loss across its distribution, its population has likely not declined rapidly enough to be considered threatened.
However, the full extent of its population size and trends remain uncertain. There is need for additional survey work, especially at the limits of its home range. Its readiness to occupy modified habitats helps protect it from immediate risks in much of its territory. Continued forest conservation will be important for its long-term preservation.
– The genus name Ocreatus refers to the boot-like leg feathering of this species.
– Like other hummingbirds, the male white-booted racket-tail does no nesting or parental duties. His sole role is to attract and mate with females.
– The hummingbird family contains the world’s smallest birds. But the white-booted racket-tail is relatively large for a hummingbird.
– Young hummingbirds need to consume half their body weight in nectar each day to survive and grow. Their appetites are insatiable!
– Hummingbirds are found only in the New World. They originated in South America and later expanded northward. Today they range as far north as Alaska.
With its striking white leg feathering, violet-blue and green plumage, and demanding aerial displays, the white-booted racket-tail stands out among even its dazzling hummingbird kin. While global populations appear stable, local habitat loss may impact some populations. Continued study of this eye-catching species will help maintain its long-term conservation across its widespread South and Central American range.