Juan Fernández firecrown (Sephanoides fernandensis)

Spanish: Colibrí de Juan Fernández
GenusSephanoides (1)
SizeMale length: 11.5 - 12 cm (2)
Female length: c. 10.5 cm (2)
Male weight: 10.9 g (2)
Female weight: 6.8 g (2)

Classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List 2007 (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

This strikingly coloured and big-footed hummingbird shows a pronounced difference in physical appearance between males and females. The male Juan Fernández firecrown is fiery reddish in colour, particularly the iridescent forehead and crown, and the wings are a dark coppery-grey. The bill is straight and black. The female has an iridescent bluish-purple crown and slate green wings. The upperparts are blueish-green and the underparts are white, dappled with black and green spots (2).

Endemic to the JuanFernández Islands, 667 kilometres off the coast of Chile (4), the remaining population is confined to about 11 square kilometres on Isla Robinson Crusoe. A population previously existed on Isla Alejandro Selkirk but is now thought to be extinct (5).

Inhabits remnant native forests and thickets, but also gardens and sheltered shady areas (2).

The Juan Fernández firecrown feeds on nectar from a variety of plants, both endemic and introduced, preferring shaded flowers that are well above the ground (2). They also eat insects found on leaves or in flight (5). Both males and females guard feeding territories, which they defend by calling frequently from specific perches, flashing their crowns and threatening intruders by facing them in the air and hovering in place (6). Very little is known about the breeding habits of the Juan Fernández firecrown except that the nests are small and sheltered well above ground and it is thought that the breeding season is between September or October and December (6). Interestingly, there is a heavily skewed sex ratio within the remaining population, with three males to every female (5).

Population numbers of the Juan Fernández firecrown are thought to be in the low hundreds (1), and theJuan Fernández Islands are among the 11 most seriously threatened, natural areas in the world as a result of hundreds of years of habitat degradation and the introduction of exotic species (4). Repeated burning, deforestation and the introduction of animals and plants, and consequently disease, have resulted in 75 percent of the endemic, vascular flora being on the verge of extinction (7). This, together with the introduction of rabbits and goats, has reduced vegetation cover and increased erosion, so that now more than 15 percent of the island is severely eroded and lacking vegetation (6). The introduced species that are of specific concern for the Juan Fernández firecrown include rats, dogs, pigs, semi-feral cattle, rabbits, which have severely affected the low elevation flora, including some hummingbird nectar plants; coatis and bramble. Coatis thrive throughout both lowland and upland areas and are opportunistic foragers, feeding on the birds and their eggs; while bramble shades out regenerating forest (6), and bears flowers too small for the Juan Fernández firecrown to feed on (2). Due to these changes in habitat, the green-backed firecrown (Sephanoides sephanoides), which can feed on bramble,is increasing in number and is competing with the Juan Fernández firecrown for space. The Juan Fernández firecrown is also less able to protect itself from predation than the green-backed firecrown. In addition to these threats is the steady impact of collection by scientists and private collectors (6).

The Juan Fernández Islands were designated a national park in 1935 (although not actively protected until 1967) and a biosphere reserve in 1977. The Chilean government began a recovery project in 1997 to restore natural habitat and the islands have since been nominated for World Heritage listing (5). The World Conservation Union (IUCN) has recommended that the population of the Juan Fernández firecrown is monitored, that all introduced mammals are removed, introduced plant populations are controlled, native flora is replanted and that grazing restrictions are enforced within the national park (5). This beautiful little bird is at great threat of extinction because of the dangerously low numbers in the single remaining population. Conservation measures need to be taken immediately to protect the native habitat on the Juan Fernández Islands and, in particular, to control bramble and coati numbers if this hummingbird is to survive (6).

For further information on hummingbirds and the Juan Fernández firecrown see:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:

  1. IUCN Red List (January, 2008)
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1999) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 5: Barn-Owls to Hummingbirds. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. CITES (January, 2008)
  4. Roy, M.S., Torees-Mura, J.C. and Hertel, F. (1998) Evolution and history of hummingbirds (Aves: Trochilidae) from the Juan Fernandez Islands, Chile. Ibis, 140(2): 265 - 273.
  5. Birdlife International (January, 2008)
  6. Colwell, R.K. (1988) Hummingbirds of the Juan Fernandez Islands: natural history, evolution and population status. Ibis, 131: 548 - 566.
  7. Cuevas, J.G. and Van Leersum, G. (2001) Project "Conservation, Restoration, and Development of the Juan Fernández islands, Chile". Revista chilena de historia natural, 74(4): 899 - 910.