Marvellous spatuletail (Loddigesia mirabilis)

Also known as: marvelous spatuletail
  
Spanish: Colibrí Admirable
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderApodiformes
FamilyTrochilidae
GenusLoddigesia (1)
SizeLength: 10 - 15 cm (2)
Top facts

The marvellous spatuletail is classified as Endangered (EN) on the IUCN Red List (1) and is listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

The marvellous spatuletail (Loddigesia mirabilis) is a rare, medium-sized hummingbird, and like most hummingbirds its colourful plumage and miniscule size make it an engaging little creature. The male marvellous spatuletail is beautifully decorated, with a deep blue crest on its head, a turquoise patch on its throat, and a deep black line down its breast and belly. The rest of the underparts are white, with green on the flanks, while the upperparts of the body are a shimmering green-bronze or bronzy-brown colour (2) (4).

One of the most characteristic features of the marvellous spatuletail is the long, spectacular tail of the male, which is made up of only four feathers. Two of these feathers are long, straight and narrow, while the other, outer two are even longer, bare, and end in blue compact ‘rackets’ or ‘spatules’, for which this species is named (2) (4) (5) (6). The feathers which end in the spatules can grow to three or four times the length of the male’s body (5).

The female marvellous spatuletail is patterned similarly to the male, but has a bronzy-green rather than blue head, a white throat, and lacks the black line on the breast and belly, which are both buffy-white. Females and immature males of this species have a much shorter tail than the adult male, although the outer tail feathers still have broad drop-shaped tips (2) (4) (6).

The call of the marvellous spatuletail has been described as a thin, sweet, rising ‘wsst’ (6), and while displaying to the female the male marvellous spatuletail produces a snapping sound. Although this sound was previously thought to be produced by the spatules on the tail snapping together, high speed film has shown that the noise is actually produced from the male’s mouth (5).

The marvellous spatuletail is the only member of its genus, Loddigesia (4) (7).

The marvellous spatuletail has a very small range, being endemic to the mountains of north-western Peru. It has been recorded on the eastern slopes of the Río Utcubamba valley, where it is known from just three areas (2) (7). This species has also been found in one location further east, in San Martín, and there are recent reports from near Tingo, Utcubamba (2).

This small hummingbird inhabits forest edges, secondary growth and montane scrub. Within this scrub there are often dense, thorny pockets of vegetation, including Alnus trees and Rubus thickets (2) (7) (8). The marvellous spatuletail is nearly always found in the Rubus thickets, especially when they are near the edge of forest (7).

The elevations that the marvellous spatuletail has been found at vary, but have always been greater than 1,700 metres. The usual elevations that this species can be found at are between 2,100 and 2,900 metres (7).

The marvellous spatuletail feeds on nectar, with its preferred food plant being the red-flowered lily, Bomarea formosissima, although it has also been recorded feeding from at least five other species of flowering plant (2). The spatuletails only pay fleeting visits to flowers as they are often displaced by other, more dominant hummingbirds with which they share their habitat, including the green violet-ear (Colibri thalassinus) and sparkling violet-ear (Colibri coruscans) (7).

The marvellous spatuletail is solitary for most of the year, and moves around constantly throughout the day, flying through dense thickets faster and with greater manoeuvrability than other hummingbirds (7).

The breeding season of this small hummingbird occurs from late October to early May (2) (7), which coincides with the rainy season (7). During the mating season, males ‘lek’ in order to gain favour and mate with a female (2). This involves the male displaying his strength by hovering in front of the female, holding his tail feathers up next to his body and waving the spatules around (4) (5). This requires a lot of energy, and the male is often only able to display for very short periods of time (5).

The mating system of the marvellous spatuletail is polygamous, which means the male will mate with several different females. It is then up to the female marvellous spatuletail to build a nest and raise the chicks. Usually, the female will lay two tiny white eggs, which hatch between two and three weeks after being laid (9).

A major threat to the marvellous spatuletail, and to many other species in South America and elsewhere, is deforestation. The rate of deforestation has increased dramatically in recent decades, with a study carried out in 1994 finding that the forests around the Río Utcubamba were being cleared for cash crops and for timber (10). However, scientists believe that the marvellous spatuletail may be protected somewhat from deforestation as it lives on the edge of forests and in isolated habitats on steep slopes (2) (7).

Another threat to this species is hunting by locals, who believe that the male marvellous spatuletail’s heart is an aphrodisiac (2) (11). This may account for the skewed sex ratio in this species, as adult males are often killed with slingshots and so are greatly outnumbered by females and immature males (2) (7).

In order to conserve this beautiful species of hummingbird, as well as other wildlife endemic to the region, the Huembo Visitor Centre was set up in Pomacochas, in the Utcubamba Valley of Peru (2) (12). At the Centre, the marvellous spatuletails can be seen at the hummingbird feeding stations year-round (12).

The marvellous spatuletail is also listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), meaning that international trade in this species should be carefully monitored and should not be detrimental to the survival of the species in the wild (3).

Several organisations are now working to conserve the marvellous spatuletail, through education, surveys, and fundraising to acquire land for protection (2). Further recommended measures for the marvellous spatuletail include more surveys to assess the size of its population, the extent of its distribution and its habitat needs (2) (7). The remaining forests in the region also need protection, and initiatives need to be developed to reduce hunting of this stunning small bird (2).

Find out more about the marvellous spatuletail and its conservation:

More information on conservation in Peru:

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:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. IUCN Red List (January, 2013)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. BirdLife International - Marvellous spatuletail (January, 2013)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=2080
  3. CITES (January, 2013)
    http://www.cites.org/
  4. Zusi, R.L. and Gill, F.B. (2009) The marvelous tail of Loddigesia mirabilis (Trochilidae). The Auk, 126(3): 590-603.
  5. Walker, M. (2009) A marvellous hummingbird display. BBC Earth News, 3 November. Available at:
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_8338000/8338728.stm
  6. Schulenberg, T.S., Stotz, D.F., Lane, D.F., O’Neill, J.P. and Parker III, T.A. (2007) Birds of Peru. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey.
  7. BirdLife International (1992) Marvellous spatuletail Loddigesia mirabilis. In: BirdLife International. Threatened Birds of the Americas. BirdLife International, Cambridge, UK. Available at:
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/userfiles/file/Species/AmRDBPDFs/Loddigesia_mirabilis_eng.pdf
  8. Clements, J.F. and Shany, N. (2001) A Field Guide to the Birds of Peru. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  9. Peterson, R.T. (1964) The Birds. Time-Life Books, Amsterdam.
  10. Davies, C.W.N., Barnes, R., Butchart, S.H.M., Fernandez, M. and Seddon, N. (1997) The conservation status of birds on the Cordillera de Colán, Peru. Bird Conservation International, 7: 181-195.
  11. Garrigues, R.L. (2000) Is marvellous spatuletail Loddigesia mirabilis threatened by hunting? Cotinga, 14: 13.
  12. American Bird Conservancy - Huembo (March, 2013)
    http://www.conservationbirding.org/abouthuembo.html