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article imageOp-Ed: The high cost of being an attractive and enamoured male

By Igor I. Solar     May 30, 2014 in Environment
Chachapoyas - Many animal features have evolved in order to enhance survival and reproductive success. In some cases being attractive may bring success in finding a mate, but it may also have adverse effect on survival. Such is the case for a Peruvian hummingbird.
The Peruvian racquet-tailed hummingbird (Loddigesia mirabilis) is also known as the Marvellous Spatuletail. As most hummingbirds, the spatuletail is small (10-15 cm) and beautifully decorated. It has a deep blue crest on its head, a turquoise patch on its throat, and a black line down its breast ending in a white belly. However, its most striking characteristic, particularly in the male, is its spectacular tail composed of only four feathers, two of which are much longer and end in a blue “racket” or “spatula.”
The female has a similar colour pattern as the male with some differences that make it less conspicuous. Females have a much shorter tail than the adult male, although the outer tail feathers still have broad tips.
The marvellous spatuletail has a very restricted habitat. It is endemic to the eastern slopes of the Utcubamba River Valley, in the mountains of the Peruvian Amazonas region, northern Peru.
The marvellous spatuletail is solitary for most of the year. The hummingbird flies around constantly through the forest searching the nectar of its preferred plant, the red-flowered lily, Bomarea formosissima.
Male spatuletails are polygamous. During the mating season, from late October to early May, they look for females and put on a performance consisting in an elaborate courtship display in order to impress the female and mate with her. He moves his tail feathers and wildly waves and crosses them in rowdy designs as he hovers in front of the female. Sometimes they perform their routine in competition with other males. This demands much energy, and the male can only carry out his show for very short periods of time.
After mating with several females, the male is usually exhausted and must soon return to his full-time occupation of finding the red flowers and drinking their nectar. The females get busy building a nest, lay two tiny white eggs which hatch within 15-20 days, and raise the chicks.
In addition to the extenuating effort of charming females, the marvellous spatuletail is threatened by deforestation in its natural range. In the past two decades forests around the Utcubamba River have been cleared for timber and crops. Furthermore, the males are hunted by the local people who believe the bird’s heart has aphrodisiac attributes. As a result, scientists have recorded a significant skewed sex ratio in this species; adult males are outnumbered by females and immature males at a rate of five to one.
A view of the Utcubamba River in the Amazonas Region of Northern Peru.
A view of the Utcubamba River in the Amazonas Region of Northern Peru.
Yuval Gelber
The IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) Red List of Threatened Species classifies the marvelous spatuletail hummingbird as an endangered species. The total population has been reduced to about 1,500 individuals, and is in decline.
This remarkably beautiful video from BBC-Nature shows in detail the incredible effort of the Marvelous Spatuletail hummingbird to impress a female.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
More about Marvellous Spatuletail, Hummingbird, Loddigesia mirabilis, Peru, Amazonas region
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