BIRD OF THE WEEK: February 9, 2018 SCIENTIFIC NAME: Heliangelus regalis
POPULATION: 3,500-15,000 individuals
IUCN STATUS: Endangered
HABITAT: Ridgetops adjacent to stunted forests on poor, sandy soils
In the right lighting, a male Royal Sunangel is a striking sight, with plumage of deep, shimmering violet-blue and a long, forked tail. Like the Rainbow-bearded Thornbill and Glittering Starfrontlet, it needs direct light to really shine; low light makes these avian gems seem dark and dull-colored.
This regal species is known only from a handful of sites in northern Peru and southern Ecuador. Habitat loss from agriculture, mining operations, and road building are the biggest threats within its small, already-fragmented range.
The Royal Sunangel is most often sighted on sandy ridgetops near "elfin" forest. These high-altitude forests are characterized by moss-covered, stunted trees, bordered by mossy savannas with lichen-covered bushes, succulents, and ferns. The species has also been found living on the sides of steep, wooded ravines.
Like other hummingbird species, including Swallow-tailed Hummingbird and Ruby Topaz, the Royal Sunangel is sexually dimorphic, meaning the male and female differ in appearance. The female sunangel is dark green with speckled cinnamon and a buffy collar, only retaining the shimmering blue-black color of the male on their tails.
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The Royal Sunangel feeds on nectar and insects, often following a regular circuit of feeding sites. Royal Sunangels may also visit hummingbird feeders, where they join other species such as Long-tailed Sylph for sips of sugar water.
In at least one location, researchers have observed that males favor higher-altitude feeding areas than females; they prefer different flowering plants as well. This species feeds while perched as well as in hovering flight — an adaptation to the thinner air of its high-altitude habitats.
Like others of its family, including Rufous Hummingbird and Rainbow Starfrontlet, the Royal Sunangel is fiercely territorial in its feeding areas. Males chase and attempt to intimidate intruders, whether they are other male birds or large insects.
Visiting females receive a warmer reception: The male courts them by flying in circles and u-shapes while opening and closing his long, colorful tail.
In 2005, ABC supported Peruvian partner Asociación Ecosistemas Andinos (ECOAN) in creating the Abra Patricia Reserve in northern Peru, which protects more than 25,000 acres of montane forest and over 300 bird species, including the Royal Sunangel. Abra Patricia has been identified by the Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) as a priority site for several other endangered bird species, such as Johnson's Tody-Flycatcher, Ochre-fronted Antpitta, and Long-whiskered Owlet.
ABC is currently working to expand the Abra Patricia Reserve by 173 acres to increase protection for birds such as Royal Sunangel. Please consider donating to help us save even more habitat at this special reserve!
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