THE MARVELOUS SPATULETAIL

If you speak to any hummingbird enthusiast and ask them "What is the one hummingbird you would want to see before you die?" the answer would undoubtedly be the Marvelous Spatuletail.  

This little bird lives in a small area on the eastern slope of the Andes in Peru, an area that is not exactly easy for travel.  If you want to try to observe the mating dance of the male (we do) you have to get there in the rainy season.  This area is difficult enough to get to in the dry season!

The Marvelous Spatuletail has a better chance of survival now that the locals have discovered that birders from all over the world are very interested in seeing it.  In addition to enduring habitat loss like many other hummingbirds, the male was also hunted by locals.  The heart of the male is considered to be an aphrodisiac in the local folklore.  Children would entertain themselves knocking them from the air with slingshots.

Fortunately, now the locals are fiercely protecting the species, setting aside acreage and planting native flowers that the birds feed on.  They have built lodging and are working to create sustainable income for the area.  The conservation easement of 100 acres set aside for the Marvelous Spatuletail is the first of its kind in Peru, and the American Bird Conservancy helped provide the needed support for the project.

The Marvelous Spatuletail male is a stunning hummingbird.  He is white, green and bronze with purple crest feathers and a turquoise gorget  He has a whitish breast with a black line down the middle.  But the stunning tail feathers are unique in the hummingbird world.  He has only four tail feathers, and the two outermost feathers end in large flat violet-blue discs.  When trying to attract a mate, he must hold these discs above his head and dance for the female while making a snapping sound with his beak.  This act is so physically exhausting that he can only keep it up for seconds before he must rest.  The female has a bronze/green head and lacks the black line on the underside.  She has a shorter tail with no discs.  And she is not easily impressed.

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