Red-billed Streamertail

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Common Name: Red-billed Streamertail or Doctor Bird
Scientific Name: Trochilus polytmus

Size: 3.25-3.5 inches (9-10 cm); Streamers (rectrices) on males add an additional 6-7 inches (13-19 cm)

Habitat: North America; endemic to Jamaica.

Occurs in all habitats from sea level to the highest mountains wherever there are flowering plants. Absent only from the most eastern end of the island. Most abundant in closed forest, but is a common garden bird and a popular garden-feeder species.

Status: Least Concern. Global Population: Unknown amount of mature individuals. The global population size has not been quantified, but this species is described as 'common'.

Diet: Flower nectar, also some insects.

Breeding: Males have a bright iridescent emerald green body, black head with lateral crown feathers elongated behind the nape to form conspicuous ear tufts, bill is bright red with black tip. Tail is black with the second to outermost tail feathers elongated to form ‘streamers’ which are often crossed. The streamers, scalloped and fluted on the inside, create a high whining humming sound in flight. Immature males and males in molt lack the streamers. Females are green upper back with white under parts, gray-brown head; bill is mostly dark, red at base. No streamers in the tail, but outer tail feathers are tipped white.

Nests are a small compact cup constructed of plant materials bound together by spider’s web and often camouflaged with lichens. Streamertails do breed year-round, but mainly from October to March. Females lay two bean-sized white eggs, incubation period is 2-3 weeks. Baby hummingbirds are born without feathers, fed regurgitated insects and are ready to leave the nest after 3 weeks. Up to three broods may be raised in one season.

Cool Facts: Most commonly called the “Doctor Bird,” the Red-billed Streamertail is well represented in Jamaican folklore, and killing these birds is considered to bring bad fortune on one’s self in most parts of rural Jamaica. The long tail feathers resemble the old-fashioned coattails of a doctor; hence, the name "Doctor Bird."

Originally, the Red-billed and Black-billed Streamertails were considered two forms of one species. The Black-billed Streamertail occurs in eastern Jamaica while the Red-billed Streamertail occurs west of a line from Morant Bay following the Morant River, and via Ginger House and the middle Rio Grande to Port Antonio. Besides location, significant differences in courtship behavior, call, bill color and width and to a lesser degree body size define them as separate species. Where the two species meet between the Blue Mountain and John Crow Mountain ranges in eastern Jamaica they form a zone of hybrids.

Red-billed Streamertail is the national bird of Jamaica. To see a Doctor Bird up close, there is no better place than Rockland’s Bird Sanctuary and Feeding Station, located just south of Montego Bay in Anchovy. Here, since the early 1950’s, hummingbirds nurtured by the late Lisa Salmon have been trained to feed out of your hand. The spectacular displays and intimate encounter provided by Rockland’s hummingbirds has attracted many eminent visitors including European Royalty, global heads of state (such as Winston Churchill), and Vogue Magazine to name but a few.

Included in Songbird ReMix Hummingbirds of North America

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