Earlier this month at Springhill, a high-pitched call of pee-pee-pee alerted us to the presence of a Rufous- tailed Jacamar nearby. Turning out to be just in front of Springhill’s Main House, employees and guests alike were delighted to spot Trinidad and Tobago’s only representative of the Galbulidae (Jacamar) family. Jacamars are Neotropical birds which are similar to Old World Bee-eaters. They look like oversized hummingbirds and share a few characteristics with ‘hummers’. They have iridescent feathers, long, thin bills and a fullness of energy.
Locally called the ‘King Hummingbird’, the Rufous-tailed Jacamar is common in humid lowlands – on forest edges, in clearings and in secondary forest. It often perches a few metres above ground alongside a road, narrow stream or other type of clearing. There, it waits for prey, mostly flying insects, for which it hawks then thrashes against a branch in order to de-wing. These lively birds are regularly seen dust bathing on gravel roads. They measure 26 cm in length and usually nest in short tunnels on earth banks or even in termite nests.
Rufous-tailed Jacamars breed, in Trinidad, from February to June and in Tobago, from February to August , where I might add, they are quite common. Both sexes share nesting duties and interestingly, during courtship males remove the insects’ wings to feed them to females. Clutches of two to four white eggs with cinnamon spots, are laid.
The Rufous-tailed Jacamar inhabits a range from Central America to South America as far as Brazil and Northern Argentina. The beauty of its shimmering green upperparts and rufous underparts cannot be overlooked. While the male’s throat is white, the female’s is rufous.
These colours fit right in with Christmastime, so we presume that the bird’s unusual appearance at Asa Wright was a fitting start to the holiday season.
– J.L. Ryan
- Hilty, Steven L. Birds of Venezuela. 2003.
- ffrench, Richard. Birds of Trinidad and Tobago. 1991
- Cornell Lab of Ornithology Neotropical Pages
http://neotropical.birds.cornell. edu/portal/species/overview?p_p_ spp=294936
Photo: Pierre-Yves Bilat