BIRD OF THE WEEK: May 13, 2016
SCIENTIFIC NAME: Sephanoides fernandensis
IUCN STATUS: Critically Endangered
HABITAT: Endemic to the Juan Fernández Islands; breeds primarily in intact native forests
The female Juan Fernández Firecrown is as flashy as the male (very unlike the more subtly colored female Ruby-throated Hummingbird), but the birds differ so drastically that they were once considered a separate species. The male, shown above, is a fiery rufous-orange with an iridescent reddish-yellow crown; the female, shown below, is a brilliant dark green above and whitish below with a bluish-green crown.
This species is only found on Isla Robinson Crusoe in the Juan Fernández Archipelago off the coast of Chile. The island is an Alliance for Zero Extinction site because it contains the species' entire population.
Another race of Juan Fernández Firecrown had formerly occurred on Isla Alejandro Selkirk but became extinct there early in the 20th century. The remaining species faces competition from the closely related Green-backed Firecrown, which is increasing and competing with the Juan Fernández Firecrown for resources.
The decline of the Juan Fernández Firecrown is due to habitat degradation by introduced herbivores, particularly rabbits and goats. Invasive species such as cats, rats, mice, and coatis, as well as various non-native plants, also pose a problem.
A long-term monitoring program has helped to better assess the population status and trends of this hummingbird. Interestingly, there is a heavily skewed sex ratio within the remaining population, with three males to every female.
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This hummingbird feeds on nectar from a variety of plants, both those found only on Isla Robinson Crusoe and those that have been introduced from elsewhere. Like the Marvelous Spatuletail, Glittering Starfrontlet, and other hummingbirds, it also eats insects, particularly during nesting season when extra protein is needed.
Juan Fernández Firecrowns are rather large hummingbirds of about 5 inches in length. They frequently hang from flowers by their feet rather than hovering—an energy-saving behavior which may make them more vulnerable to predation by cats. Both sexes defend feeding territories by calling from favored perches, flashing their crowns, and hovering in front of intruders.
Preventing this species' extinction is a priority for ABC and our partners. For example, we supported the work of partner Oikonos' Juan Fernández Islands Conservancy to protect the firecrown through habitat restoration and management of non-native predators. Teams on Robinson Crusoe have cleared major portions of the Plazoleta del Yunque, a critically important firecrown nesting area, of two highly invasive plant species.
Oikonos also works with teams of veterinarians from Chilean universities to spay and neuter the community's pet cats. As part of this effort, Oikonos initiated a pet registry in collaboration with the local municipality, so that feral cats could be more readily distinguished from owned cats.
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