Collecting and Breeding the Jamaican Red-billed Streamertail (Trochilus polytmus)


J amaica tops all of the Caribbean Islands by boasting more endemic bird species than any other - 30. In this group of endemics are three hummingbirds, the Redbilled Streamcrtail Trocbilus polytmus. the Black-billed

Strearnertail Trocbilus scitutus, and the jamaican Mango Antbracotborax mango.

The Red-billed Streamertail is known by hummingbird fanciers throughout the world for its two long tail feathers (steamers). In Jamaica the locals call this bird the "Doctor Bird," when perched it will usually cross its streamers, thus resembling a doctor's stethoscope. This is their national bird and it is adorned throughout the Island from airplanes to street vendors.

The basic differences between the Red-billed and Black-billed are the colors of their bills, sexual and aggressive behavior, song, and range. The Red-billed obviously has a red bill but it is tipped in black. The amount of black on the tip of the bill varies according to the age of the bird - the older the bird the less black on the bill. This species is found throughout Jamaica except the far eastern part of the Island separated by

the Blue ....


and the John

C r o w


This is the

only area

where both

species can

be found


Hybrids have

been record-

ed in this



years of

studies permit requests, we were granted permission to export the Red-billed

species in

1999. In


August of the same year we collected these with the help of Dr. Michael Hailey, Director of the Discovery Bay Marine Lab along with students of the University of the West Indies. Dr. Hailey had been conducting migratory studies on the species for many years and knew the exact location to collect the birds.

Except for getting up hours before the sun came up it was quite easy collecting the streamertails. Mist nets were set up about a half-hour prior to the sun rising in areas where the birds were found in large nurnbers. Most of the sites selected were rich with Bahinia trees, also called "the poor man's orchid." This is the favorite nectar source for the streamertails. It was also interesting to observe that the males had their territories staked out in these trees. The females would come in from other surrounding areas to feed from the nectar source, usually a heavily forested area near the Rahinias.

Captured specimens were looked over thoroughly once removed from the mist nets. We looked for any distinct bill, feet, or feather problems or abnormalities along with looking for any banded b i r d s . Weights and measurements were record on any banded birds collected then they w e r c released. Bi were also released

that would

not accept

the nectar

feeder after fifteen min-

utes. We

were very

conscious about keeping the number of losses


to a minimum and also did our best to distinguish the age of the birds in order to keep only the youngest. Age can be determined fairly accurately on this species a number of ways. One way is by the color of the bill and the amount of black on it, both in the male and female. Immature males also do not possess the long streamers and the tail feathers are much duller in color.

Once collected, the birds were transported to the marine lab where we had cages arranged individually for each bird. We held the birds in the cages changing the feeders twice daily. We were hoping that keeping the birds in these individual cages, limiting their flight expenditures and having an endless supply of food would enable them to put weight on prior to export. Our theory ended up proving right and each bird gained on average nearly v 4 a gram. This is a lot considering they only weigh 4.5 to 6 grams.

After nearly two weeks of collecting and caring for these birds it was time to pack up and bring them to their "New World." What I thought was going to be a relatively easy day turned out to be rather exhausting. The marine lab is located on the north shore between Montego Bay and Ocho Rios and is only a little over an hour from the airport in Montego Bay. But since the flight goes through Kingston and the birds would have to be transferred to another flight we decided to drive the two hours to Kingston and stop every thirty minutes to check the birds. We figured this would be a little less stressful on the birds and would eliminate any chance of the birds being left siting out in the open heat on a runway.

A few hours prior to leaving for Kingston we decided to call the airline to make sure the flight was on schedule and to re-confirm the space for the birds. We could not get through to the airline so we decided to take the chance and leave for Kingston a little earlier than planned. It was a good thing we left early since the trip took us four hours, twice as long as we had expected. We had stopped about every thirty minutes to check the birds and found most of them were not feeding so we had to hand feed them. This can take a little time feeding twenty birds. Luckily, there were four of us and the feedings went fast. We finally arrived in Kingston and proceeded to the American Airlines Cargo Facility. There was commotion all over. We were stopped at the cargo entrance and were told we could not go any further.

Overnight the AA Cargo Building had burned to the ground. I thought to myself that this could not be happening; we were already tired from the unexpectedly long drive from the other side of the Island and I could not even think about driving back with the birds. Since I was flying on the same flight as the birds we decided to go the ticket counter and see what the alternative was. It ended up that they let me check the birds as baggage but the stress didn't subside. Because of the fire the flight was delayed for another two hours.




Ester Quesada Tyrrell/Robert A. Tyrrell. (1990) Hummingbirds of the Caribbean

del Hoyo, J., Elliot, A. & Sargatal,]. eds. (1999) Handbook of the Birds c!f the World. Vol.5. Barn-owls to Hummingbirds. Lynx Edici6ns, Barcelona.