BIRD OF THE WEEK: May 25, 2018 SCIENTIFIC NAME: Taphrolesbia griseiventris
POPULATION: 250 - 1,000 individuals
IUCN STATUS: Endangered
TREND: Decreasing
HABITAT: Semi-arid, shrubby slopes and canyons

Grey-bellied Comet map, NatureServeThe Gray-bellied Comet is more attractive than its plain-sounding name implies. In the right light, the upper sides of this large hummingbird shimmer with greens, blues, and bronzy-oranges. Males have a violet-blue throat (gorget), and both sexes have long tails similar to those of the Swallow-tailed Hummingbird and Long-tailed Sylph.

This hummingbird is so local and uncommon that sightings of it were infrequent for many years. It was re-found in the early 1990s and is now spotted regularly within its limited range, which consists of five fragmented populations on the Pacific slope of the Andes in north-central Peru.

Like other restricted-range species such as Stresemann's Bristlefront and White-bellied Cinclodes, Gray-bellied Comet is especially vulnerable to habitat loss.

Birds of a Dry Country

Gray-bellied Comets are found on arid mountain slopes and canyons with sparse vegetation, usually between 9,020 and 10,400 feet. Endemism is high among birds of this arid Andean region of Peru, with many species — including Gray-bellied Comet, Striated Earthcreeper, and Rufous-backed Inca-Finch — found nowhere else.

Desert Pollinator

Like other hummingbirds of arid habitats, the Gray-bellied Comet is an important pollinator of desert cacti, shrubs, and trees; it particularly favors flowering agave and bromeliads found on steep slopes and in deep ravines. Costa's Hummingbird and Honduran Emerald also play this key pollinating role.

Gray-bellied Comet nests were first documented in 1999; in both of these two cases, the female hummingbird had built a well-camouflaged, pouch-like nest below an overhang of earth and dangling roots at a road-cut.

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Female Gray-bellied Comet, Jacques Erard

Female Gray-bellied Comet by Jacques Erard

Helping a Bird in Need

ABC and our partner ECOAN are considering the creation of a new reserve for the Gray-bellied Comet near the city of Cajamarca, a city in Peru's northern highlands where this bird is regularly spotted. This new reserve would protect existing habitat and engage local people to raise awareness and promote habitat restoration that could benefit the species.

ABC has already had success in establishing partnerships that protect habitat-limited species such as Gray-bellied Comet; many of those, including Yellow-headed Brush-Finch and Blue-throated Macaw, can be found throughout our reserve network across Central and South America and the Caribbean.

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