BIRD OF THE WEEK: July 24, 2015 SCIENTIFIC NAME: Aglaiocercus kingii
POPULATION: Unknown
TREND: Decreasing
HABITAT: High-elevation forest edge in Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia

Long-tailed Sylph map, NatureServeNamed for an imaginary spirit of the air, the graceful Long-tailed Sylph is the only member of its genus found on the east slopes of the Andes. Like another incredible hummingbird, the Marvelous Spatuletail, males have a striking tail; the Long-tailed Sylph's is a cascade of shimmering, iridescent blue and green tail feathers.

Since this species has a fairly short bill, it sometimes pierces the base of flowers to sip nectar, often perching while it feeds. It is an altitudinal migrant, moving up and down the mountain slopes during the year to take advantage of food availability.

The Tails Have It

Male Long-tailed Sylphs have to be a strong and skilled fliers to survive to breeding age. It's thought that female sylphs actually select mates with the longest tail feathers, since they prove a male's level of strength and fitness.

The female Long-tailed Sylph chooses a nest location, builds a nest, and raises the chicks. Males defend a territory, but aside from mating, don't participate in the nesting process.


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Like other hummingbirds, including the Esmeraldas Woodstar and Ruby-throated Hummingbird, the Long-tailed Sylph feeds on nectar and insects, often following a regular circuit of specific plant species or feeding sites.

Long-tailed Sylph in rain, Martin Mecnarowski, Shutterstock

Long-tailed Sylph in rain, Martin Mecnarowski, Shutterstock

Fairly Common – For Now

Although Long-tailed Sylphs have a large range and are considered to be fairly common, they are suspected to be declining locally due to ongoing habitat loss and degradation caused by agriculture and mining.

ABC and partners protect habitat in many places within this hummingbird's range, including the Tapichalaca in Ecuador, Abra Patricia in Peru, and reserves benefiting the Cerulean Warbler and Blue-billed Curassow in Colombia.

The Hummingbird Effect!

In his recent book, Steven Johnson coins the term “Hummingbird Effect” to make the point that innovation in one realm can trigger unpredictable and unexpected advancement in others. We not only agree, but have dozens of examples of how great American bird conservation projects make considerable, sometimes unexpected contributions to other important causes including amphibian conservation, human health, food safety, climate change, water conservation, and home energy savings.


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