A marvellous hummingbird display [Featured]

September 29th, 2011

The Marvellous Spatuletail is perhaps one of the most beautiful, rare and unique of Peru’s native creatures. This hummingbird, that only exists in a few small isolated areas of cloud forest, and its special mating ritual are introduced to us by the BBC. Their camera team was the first to ever record the male spatuletail’s attempts to woo a female, the whole mating display from start to finish.

The amazing mating display of the marvellous spatuletail hummingbird has been filmed in full for the first time.

The spatuletail hummingbird is among the most rare and striking of birds.

By using a high speed camera, a BBC natural history film crew was the first to capture the mating sequence in super slow motion.

The crew also filmed a male advertising in front of a female, and solved a mystery of how the male birds make a snapping sound during the display.

The mating display of the marvellous spatuletail hummingbird (Loddigesia mirabilis) is captured for the BBC natural history series Life.

The species lives in just a few locations in Peru, and is unusual not just because of its rarity, but also because of its extreme mating behaviour.

Unusually among hummingbirds, the bird has just four tail feathers.

In males, two of these feathers grow to three or four times the bird’s body length, each ending in a large violet-blue disc; the spatule.

In an amazing display, a male then advertises its quality as a mate to a female by hovering in front of her while furiously waving his spatules about.

“It’s one of the most extreme displays,” says Mrs Nikki Waldron, a researcher who helped film the behaviour for the programme.

“As part of his dance he’ll jump backward and forwards in the air over a branch and make a snapping sound in the air.”

“It was thought he actually snapped those spatule discs together to generate the noise.”

However, the high speed film of the mating sequence, captured at hundreds of frames per second, reveals that not to be true.

“When we filmed them in super high speed we realised that although the spatules wobble very closely together, the noise is actually coming from his mouth. That was the first time anybody had seen that,” says Mrs Waldron.

The BBC camera team was also the first to record the male marvellous spatuletail hummingbird displaying to a female, and his whole mating display from start to finish.

Low light conditions and the tiny size of the bird made filming especially challenging.

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