Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the November 12, 2007 Newsletter issued from Yerba Buena Clinic just outside Pueblo Nuevo Solistahuacan, Chiapas, MÉXICO
about 1740 meters in elevation, ± LAT. 17° 11' 27"N, LONG. -92° 53' 35"W

Last week I told you about the hummingbirds who visit a certain big population of violet-flowered salvias near my dwelling. Early last week it finally stopped raining, I returned to the salvias and found a hummingbird species working the blossoms I'd missed earlier, a real doozy.

It was a Sparkling-tailed Woodstar, PHILODICE DUPONTII, sometimes known as Dupont's Hummingbird, and sometimes placed in the genus Tilmatura. The species is endemic to foothills and highlands from central Mexico to Nicaragua and its looks make it worthy of the dreamy imagery the name "Sparkling-tailed Woodstar" evokes. One is shown on a Nicaraguan postage stamp at http://www.bird-stamps.org/images/stamps/nicara/_81299.jpg.

Two features of this hummer grab your attention right off. First, like the Bumblebee Hummingbird we met in the Querétaro highlands, Sparkling-tailed Woodstars are slow-moving, bumblebee-like birds.

The male's tail is the second bizarre thing. From the side the tail looks like a slender black stick with three white bands stuck into the bird's rear end. When the bird flies he cocks that tail upwards at maybe a 35° angle. When he lands, however, especially if he begins preening, you see that the slender tail is sharply forked all the way to the rump, scissor-like. Immature males bear shorter tails with one or two white bands, while females get along with short, shallowly cleft, round-tipped tails.

Both sexes also bear broad, white patches on the sides of their rumps, or lower backs, enhancing the big-bee resemblance.

This species seems shier than most. The ones I saw remained inside dense salvia clumps only briefly and occasionally flying up to see if I'd gone yet. With such unique field marks, however, all you need is a glimpse to make a hundred-percent-sure identification.

By the way, I don't know who is responsible but someone has been very creative naming our hummingbirds down here. Besides Sparkling-tailed Woodstars, whose tails don't sparkle at all, there are starthroats, mountain- gems, emeralds, sapphires, woodnymphs, coquettes, jacobins, sabrewings, hermits, barbthroats and more.