Red-billed Streamertail

SCIENTIFIC NAME: Trochilus polytmus

Red-billed Streamertail

The Red-billed Streamertail also known as the doctor bird, scissor-tail or scissors tail hummingbird is sometimes confused with the Black-billed Streamertail (T. scitulus) which has black bill at all ages.

It is locally known as “doctor bird”, due to its erect black crest and long tail feathers that resemble the top hat and coat-tails used by doctors in the old days.

It was also named “God bird” by the Arawak Indians who believed this hummingbird had magical powers and was the reincarnation of dead souls.

Including its bill and tail, the male is about 8.7 – 13 inches in length (tail length 5.11 – 6.7 inches) and weighs 5.2 grams. The female is about 3.9 – 4.3 inches long and weighs 4.4 grams.

Males have iridescent emerald green body plumage, slightly darker on back. Flight-feathers are dark brown to blackish. Forked tail is black with greatly elongated second outermost rectrices (streamers). These long feathers are scalloped and fluted on the inside. When the bird is perched, the streamers are crossed.

Head is black with elongated laterals crown feathers and ear-coverts extending beyond the nape.

The straight bill (2-3 cm) is red with black tip. Eyes are dark brown. Legs and feet are blackish.

Females have green upperparts whereas underparts are white, with some green spots on breast sides and belly. Tail has green central rectrices, while the others are dark blue with broad white tips. They lack the streamers and their bill is red but duller than the males’, with blackish distal part.

Juvenile birds have black upper mandible with red only at bill base.

Immature males are similar to adults but lack the streamers.

Gives loud, metallic “ting” or “teet”, and a descending, prolonged “twink-twink-twink”. These calls are used to communicate during mating and territory defense.

The male produces a non-vocal sound during the flight by using the streamers. The scalloped and fluted long feathers produce a whirring sound during the flight. However, from recent research, this noise could be produced by the wing feathers, and especially two of the outermost three primaries.

Feeds on nectar from both native and introduced flowers, but it also consumes some insects and spiders.

Frequents a variety of habitats and can be seen within or along the edges of montane forests.

It also frequents man-made habitats such as plantations, parks and gardens.

Found in Jamaica, except in extreme E.

Nest is a cup-shaped structure made of plant fibers, spider webs and lichen, the latter usually used on the outer wall. It is placed on thin twig, between 1 and 3 meters above the ground.

The female lays two whitish eggs and incubates alone during 17 - 19 days.


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