Saturday, December 6, 2014

Buff-tailed Sicklebill

The fanciest bird that I found in my errant hummingbird file is this Buff-tailed Sicklebill. This species was common near Limoncocha, in Amazonian Ecuador, where Erika and I conducted our doctoral research in 1975 and 1976. We also listed the species numerous times in various parts of eastern Peru in the early 1970s. This photo was part of a project we undertook with James Yost to photograph captured birds in a parachute-lined cage.
We caught sicklebills whenever we were near this flower, which I believe is a Campanulaceae, the Bellflowers, a large family containing some 2400 species around the world. My best guess is that it is in the genus Centropogon, which is known to be favored by sicklebills (Handbook of Birds of the World—Alive). The shape of the flower suggests coevolution with the hummingbird, the oddly curved bill perfectly shaped to service the curved flower blossom.
Sicklebills also favor Heliconias, called False Bird-of-Paradise or Wild Plantains, which are closely related to bananas. Heliconias' small flowers grow in the center of long, waxy, colorful, cup-shaped bracts. Buff-tailed Sicklebills practice trap-linning, which is where an individual, rather than guarding a specific flower, visits flowers in a regular, repeating sequence (Wikipedia). I believe the flower in the last photo is Heliconia rostrata, which is known from Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and Columbia.

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