Blackbilled Streamertails (Trochilus scitulus): Hummingbirds Native Only to Jamaica

by DerdriuMarriner

Black-billed streamertails are hummingbirds. They differ in beak color from doctor birds. They inhabit only easternmost coasts while red-bills live everywhere else on Jamaica.

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Islands are permanent lands supporting vegetation and surrounded by water. They can appear sturdy as continents in the case of 2,969,907.07 square-mile (7,692,024 square-kilometer) Australia or vulnerable as rocks in the example of 8.11 square-mile (21 square-kilometer) Nauru.

Whatever their total area, they sometimes claim endemic wildlife whose island-exclusive bio-geographies defer to insular isolation.
• But island-specific fauna and flora do not necessarily claim all the eligible insular habitats.
• They sometimes draw the equivalent of borders by inhabiting distinct niches within like or same habitats.

For example, the streamertail hummingbird exists natively only on the Caribbean island of Jamaica.
• But the black-billed streamertail inhabits the easternmost extremity while red-bills live everywhere else on 4,243.65 square-mile (10,991 square-kilometer) Jamaica.

*****

Male Red-Billed Streamertail (Trochilus polytmus): distinguished by bill coloring from related avian Jamaican endemic, Black-Billed Streamertail (Trochilus scitulus)

Lime Tree Farm, Blue Mountains, Saint Andrew Parish, southeastern Jamaica
Lime Tree Farm, Blue Mountains, Saint Andrew Parish, southeastern Jamaica

 

Novice birdwatchers and collectors sometimes confuse black-billed (Trochilus polytmus) and red-billed (Trochilus scitulus) streamertail hummingbirds. Education, experience, and expertise ultimately converge to emphasize recognizable differences in appearance and bio-geography for researchers and viewers. But confusion oftentimes emerges in regard to whether a subtlety in color or variation in size falls within the range of an existing species or leads to the unveiling of something new.

  • For example, specimens exhibit color changes from museum ambiences and preservatives.
  • Red-bills get yellow with age and demise but never go all-dark like black-bills in life and death.

The above-mentioned fact and other deep truths of body sizes and distributional ranges in fact inspire the taxonomic separation of black-bills and black-tipped red-bills.

 

Famed Swedish faunal and floral polymath Carl Linnaeus (Carl von Linné) described Jamaican endemic hummingbird, Red-Billed Streamertail ~

1982 bronze sculpture by Robert Berks (born 1922)
Chicago Botanic Garden
Chicago Botanic Garden

 

Småland-born Swedish nobleman Carl Linnaeus (May 23, 1707 – January 10, 1778) garners kudos for describing red-billed streamertails to wildlife-loving amateurs and professionals in 1758. South Reading-born Massachusetts ornithologist William Brewster (July 5, 1851 – July 11, 1919) and Watertown-born Massachusetts zoologist Outram Bangs (January 12, 1863 – September 22, 1932) get credited for identifying black-bills in 1901. Both taxonomies honor the Caribbean Land of Wood and Water’s bio-geography. Jamaican bio-diversity indeed prompts:

  • Genoa-born Italian explorer Christopher Columbus (October 31, 1451? – November 26, 1504) going speechless before Madrigal de las Altas Torres–born Spanish Queen Isabella I (April 22, 1451 – November 26, 1504);
  • Killyleagh-born British physician Sir Hans Sloane (April 16, 1660 – January 11, 1753) launching London’s British Museum collections.

 

William Brewster (July 5, 1851 – July 11, 1919): American ornithologist co-described Black-Billed Streamertail with American zoologist Outram Bangs (January 12, 1863 – September 22, 1932) in 1901:

portrait signed and dated December 1916
H.W. Henshaw, "In Memoriam: William Brewster," The Auk, Vol. XXXVI (January 1920), Plate I, frontispiece
H.W. Henshaw, "In Memoriam: William Brewster," The Auk, Vol. XXXVI (January 1920), Plate I, frontispiece

 

Black-bills answer to two categories of names. One classification conserves such common, non-scientific, popular terminology as:  

  • Black-billed doctor bird;
  • Black-billed hummingbird;
  • Black-billed longtail;
  • Black-billed ribbon-tail;
  • Black-billed scissors-tail;
  • Black-billed streamertail;
  • Black-bill;
  • Eastern ribbon-tail;
  • Eastern scissors-tail;
  • Eastern streamertail;
  • Jamaican black-bill.

English-language designations get bolstered by respectively easterly and northerly influences with:

  • Colibri à bec noir (“Hummingbird with [a] black beak”) from French-speaking Haiti;
  • Colibrí portacintas piquinegro (“Hummingbird, ribbon-carrying [and] black-beaked”) from Spanish-speaking Cuba.

It is supplemented by the binomial (“two-name”), Greek / Latin, taxonomic terminologies of science. It represents the juxtaposition of:

  • The genus name Trochilus, from the Greek noun τρόχιλος for “little bird,” traditionally translated as “wren”;
  • The species name scitulus, from the Latin adjective scitus for “handsome.”

 

Male Black-Billed Streamertail (Trochilus scitulus)

northeastern Jamaica
northeastern Jamaica

 

The description “handsome little bird” indeed applies to the black-billed streamer-tailed hummingbird male. The male black-bill has:

  • All-black, downward-curving, short, slender bill;
  • Black, ear-tufted, small head;
  • Dark emerald-green underside;
  • Dark grass-green back, rump;
  • Glossy emerald-green, small body;
  • Green-edged upper-tail and wing coverts (cover, outer, upper feathers);
  • Iridescent black throat;
  • Purple-black tail with -- except during the juvenile and molting male stages -- two dark blue-green, long, narrow, trailing, white-tipped feathers whose fluted, scalloped insides emit high-pitched, in-flight hums and whines;
  • Purple-brown wings;
  • Yellow-brown mandibles.  

Black-billed, streamer-less females have:

  • Grass-green backs, rumps, upper-tail and wing coverts;
  • Green-spotted necks, sides, throats;
  • Grey-brown, little heads with occasional green-tipped feathers;
  • Pale-looking tail coverts and undersides;
  • Purple-brown, white-tipped outer tail-feathers;
  • Yellow-brown mandibles.

 

Distribution map of Black-billed Streamertail

H.A. Raffaele, J. Wiley, O.H. Garrido, A.R. Keith, and J.I. Raffaele, Field Guide to the Birds of the West Indies (2003)
H.A. Raffaele, J. Wiley, O.H. Garrido, A.R. Keith, and J.I. Raffaele, Field Guide to the Birds of the West Indies (2003)

 

Female and male black-billed ribbon-tailed hummingbirds can breed year-round in their native northeast Jamaican niches to:

  • The north of the Rio Grande and John Crow Mountains;
  • The south of the Morant River.

During any month, males therefore communicate their readiness by engaging in u-shaped flights which showcase their waving scissors-tails. But both genders particularly favor:

  • Breeding between October and May;
  • Nesting between April and June.

They get together about 9.84 – 13.12 feet (3 – 4 meters) above ground level. As mothers-to-be, females then have sole responsibility for building on horizontal, low-lying, skinny branches cup-shaped nests of:

  • Camouflage-friendly moss on the exterior;
  • Soft down, fibers, and hairs on the interior.

Nests include spider webs to expand as hatchlings grow.

 

View of the Rio Grande, which separates Blue and John Crow mountains in its riverine sashay through northeastern Jamaica ~

Rising on the Blue Mountains' northern slopes and flowing into the Caribbean at St. Margaret's Bay, Rio Grande passes through dramatic, wild scenery, making it popular for rafting -- Rio Grande rafting reputedly was pioneered by Aussie actor Errol Flynn.
Portland Parish, northeastern Jamaica
Portland Parish, northeastern Jamaica

 

Every successful mating ends in two bean-sized white eggs. Incubation lasts 14 – 20 days. Blind, immobile, naked hatchlings must dominate within 21 days:

  • Consuming regurgitated, semi-digested insects pushed directly from throat to stomach by maternal beaks;
  • Emitting a high-pitched teeet-teeet, loud chink-chink, metallic ting-ting, and sharp tee-tee.  

Mothers occupy separate nests during their chicks’ last week of dependence. Juveniles remain recognizable with:

  • Brown-yellow culmens (topside ridges of upper mandibles);
  • Buff-yellow lower mandibles;
  • Grey-green undersides;
  • Grey-spotted crowns.

They will mature to:

  • Adult bodies 3.25 – 3.94 inches (8.25 – 10 centimeters) long, plus 5.91- to 7.09-inch (15- to 18-centimeter) streamers for males;
  • Arthropod-, nectar-, pollen-dominated diets;
  • Solitary life cycles and natural histories -- apart group-breeding -- within loose community networks.

 

Male Black-Billed Streamertail: graceful aerialist

John Crow Mountains
John Crow Mountains

Conclusion

 

Scientists devote themselves to never-ending series of inquiry and interpretation. Accuracy insists upon investigative advances and technological breakthroughs. A case in kind is the revision after the re-examination of 144 museum-stored, streamer-tailed specimens in 1901. Scientists generally let some uncertainty remain in taxonomies since animals and plants individualize appearances and dimensions. But updates may lead to reconsidering subtleties in:

  • Behavior;
  • Color;
  • Distribution;
  • Size.

Such modernizations result in querying the significance of:

  • All-black bills, restricted bio-geographies, and smaller measurements;
  • Occasional ruby-colored throat feathers.

The question of black beaks, coastal ranges, and diminutive configurations reveals the eastern species’ separate homeland and identity. Perhaps the next revisionist round will resolve the rare frequency and typical infrequency of ruby-throated doctor birds.

 

On June 20, 1894, Lionel Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild (February 8, 1868 – August 27, 1937) displayed 2 Trochilus specimens which he deemed as new species due to rare ruby spots on their throats~

Namesake of their collector, C.B. Taylor of Jamaica, Aithurus (now Trochilus) taylori is an elusive rarity which seems to add a 3rd species to Jamaica's endemic streamertail genus.
"Start of the Blue Mountains just north of Kingston, Jamaica"
"Start of the Blue Mountains just north of Kingston, Jamaica"

Acknowledgment

 

My special thanks to:

  • Talented artists and photographers/concerned organizations who make their fine images available on the Internet;
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University for superior on-campus and on-line resources.

 

Black-Billed Streamertails' homelands in eastern Jamaica include southeastern sector, which includes terminus at island's easternmost point, Point Morant ~

Jamaica's oldest lighthouse, erected in 1841, Morant Point Lighthouse was designed by Alexander Gordon (May 5, 1802-May 14, 1868) as Western Hemisphere's first cast iron lighthouse.
St. Thomas Parish, southeastern Jamaica: view looking north northeast
St. Thomas Parish, southeastern Jamaica: view looking north northeast

Sources Consulted

 

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"Black-billed Streamertail Hummingbirds." Beauty of Birds. Retrieved October 17, 2014.

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Brewster, William; and Bangs, Outram. 8 February 1901. "On an overlooked species of Aithurus." Proceedings of the New England Zoological Club 2:47-50.

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Goodrich, S.G. 1859. Illustrated Natural History of the Animal Kingdom, Being a Systematic and Popular Description of the Habits, Structure, and Classification of Animals, from the Highest to the Lowest forms, with Their Relations to Agriculture, Commerce, Manufactures, and the Arts. Volume II.

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Graves, G.R. 2009. "Ontogeny of Bill Color in Streamertail Hummingbirds." Journal of Caribbean Ornithology 22:44-47.

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Myers, P.; Espinosa, R.; Parr, C.S.; Jones, T.; Hammond, G.S.; and Dewey, T.A.. 2014. "Trochilus scitulus: Black-billed Streamertail." The Animal Diversity Web (Online). University of Michigan Museum of Zoology.Retrieved October 17, 2014.

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Sherony, Dominic. "Black-billed Streamertail." The Website of Everything: Birds > Apodiformes > Trochilidae > Trochilus. Retrieved October 17, 2014.

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  • Available at: http://thewebsiteofeverything.com/animals/birds/Apodiformes/Trochilidae/Trochilus-polytmus

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  • Available at: http://beautyofbirds.com/streamertailhummingbirds.html

Tortello, Dr. Rebecca. 5 April 2004. "Colourful Characters -- Jamaica's Birds." Jamaica Gleaner: Pieces of the Past. Retrieved October 17, 2014.

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"Trochilus scitulus (Black-billed Streamertail)." ZipcodeZoo: Identifier 676814. Retrieved October 17, 2014. 

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Boston Bay is near stream and sleepy town of Priestman's River, where type species of Trochilus scitulus, described by Brewster and Bangs in 1901, was collected by William Earle Dodge (W.E.D.) Scott (April 1852-August 21, 1910) on February 11, 1891 ~

The Priestman's River Bridge links Black Rock, Castle Comfort (site of Errol Flynn's 1,000 acre estate), and Islington in Portland Parish.
Surfers' delight: Boston Bay, Portland Parish, northeastern Jamaica
Surfers' delight: Boston Bay, Portland Parish, northeastern Jamaica
the end which is also the beginning
the end which is also the beginning

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Gusty and I thank you for reading this article and hope that our product selection interests you; Gusty Gus receives favorite treats from my commissions.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved.
DerdriuMarriner, All Rights Reserved.
Updated: 10/17/2014, DerdriuMarriner
 
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