The hummingbirds are one of the most distinctive and specialised bird families that hold a special attraction for many. Their diminutive size, aerial mastery, bright colours and spectacular plumage ornaments make them seem of another world and the names they have been given, Woodnymphs, Sylphs, Comets, Sunbeams, Woodstars etc., reflect our attraction to this fascinating family of birds living at the extreme of what it is to be a bird. Hummingbirds are restricted to the Americas where their diversity is concentrated in the tropical Andes. Peru is home to 120 species of hummingbird, a third of all known species. Amongst these 14 species are only found in Peru, mostly having small ranges within the Andes.
Koepcke’s Hermit is restricted to hill forest on the outer ridges of the eastern Andes with a disjunct range extending from San Martin to Madre de Dios.
Peruvian Piedtail inhabits forest interiors in the eastern foothills from San Martin to Cusco. It has recently started visiting feeders below Abra Patricia making it much easier to see.
The spectacular Bronze-tailed Comet is uncommon but widespread in the western Andes from La Libertad to Arequipa.
The magnificent Grey-bellied Comet that is currently known only from a very small area near the city of Cajamarca, now mainly restricted to the canyon of the Rio Chonta where a few pairs persist.
Black-breasted Hillstar inhabits puna and tree-line habitats in central Peru, most often where stands of their favoured Chuquiraga plants are found.
The striking Bearded Mountaineer inhabits dry montane scrub in intermontane valleys of the southern Andes, often being found at stands of exotic tree tobacco Nicotiana.
Three of the endemics are in the genus Metallura, the Metaltails. These mid-sized species all occupy similar high altitude habitats at the treeline. The Black Metaltail in the western Andes from Cajamarca to Arequipa, the Coppery Metaltail to the east of the Marañón river in northern Peru, and the Fire-throated Metaltail in eastern central Peru.
The Marvelous Spatuletail, one of the most distinctive of all hummingbirds with only 4 tail feathers, two of which have large purple “spatules” which are waved in its amazing display, is only found in a small area of the upper Utcubamba valley, where it is most easily seen at the Humebo visitor centre near the town of Pomacochas in Amazonas.
Two are Sunbeams in the genus Aglaeactis. The White-tufted Sunbeam inhabits humid montane scrub in the central and southern Andes. The Purple-backed Sunbeam is restricted to a tiny area on the west side of the Marañón valley in La Libertad and is only known from a single accessible locality at the village of El Molino.
The Spot-throated Hummingbird favours arid habitats of the Marañón valley where it can be very common. The Green-and-white Hummingbird frequents the humid montane forest in the south-east being easily found at Machu Picchu.
Several of hummingbirds are nearly endemic to Peru such as the Royal Sunangel which is best seen at Abra Patricia in Amazonas, the Peruvian Sheartail which can be found in the parks and gardens of Lima, and the Oasis Hummingbird found in the deserts of western Peru. On-going studies into hummingbird taxonomy and the acceptance of less conservative taxonomic treatments will likely result in the recognition of more endemic species for Peru such as the spectacular white-tailed albicaudata form of the Violet-throated Starfrontlet, which is already afforded species rank by some.
The endemic hummingbirds of Peru are a great attraction for keen birders but also appeal to anyone with any interest in the natural world.
Text by Rob Williams.