Have You Seen This Hummingbird Before?

Booted Racket-tailed hummingbird

I bet this bird doesn’t come to your feeder:

It’s called the Booted Racket-tail Hummingbird.

Booted Racket-tailed hummingbird 2

The male Booted Racket-tail is a spectacular hummingbird with metallic green plumage and an elaborate tail longer than the tiny bird itself! This streamer-like tail features two elongated feathers tipped with blunt blueish “rackets.” Females lack the long tail, but both sexes wear “boots” (puffy white leg feathers).

booted racket-tailed hummingbird mating dance

While reading about this bird, I happen to be outside on vacation in the Smoky Mountains waiting, actually, for the the local hummingbirds to approach. I like to compare wildlife of different areas every where I go, and I was excited to see which species was going to approach this feeder.

Sky Valley hummingbird feeder

But anything that approaches now will just pale in comparison, because I know I won’t be seeing this bird.

First of all, most of us don’t live anywhere near it. This hummingbird is an Andean mountain specialty, found in mid-elevation woodlands from Colombia and Venezuela south to Bolivia. Secondly, it doesn’t migrate north and south, but stays put. However, it will migrate to higher and lower elevations, instead, to take advantage of the best flowering plants. And then third, the Booted Racket-tail is the only member of its genus, but it’s closely related to the puffleg, several of which are critically endangered due to habitat loss.

Booted Racket-tailed hummingbird range map


Male Booted racket-tails establish feeding territories and aggressively chase away other males as well as large insects — such as bumblebees and hawk moths — that try to feed in their territory. With aerial flights and intimidating displays, they attempt to chase away any intruders.

Males attract females by displaying their leg puffs and clapping their tail streamers together during steep U-shaped dives. Both genders may mate with several partners.

As with other hummingbirds, the female takes care of all duties related to caring for the young. She builds a cup-shaped nest of plant fibers and down covered in moss and lichen, usually positioned 20 to 30 feet high in a tree, where she lays two or three tiny eggs. She may raise several broods per year if food supplies are sufficient.

Booted Racket-tailed hummingbird nest

Food during nesting:

In addition to nectar, Booted Racket-tails and other hummingbirds also take small spiders and insects, an important source of protein for development of the chicks. The birds often catch insects in flight, a behavior called hawking; they also snatch them from leaves or branches, and pluck them from spider webs. A nesting female can capture several thousand insects a day.

Where to see them:

As mentioned before, they are exclusively seen in western South America. So, if you happen to be there, Booted Racket-tails readily go to nectar feeders and have been seen at 13 reserves, including Colombia’s Tanagers Reserve, Ecuador’s Tapichalaca and Buenaventura Reserves, and Peru’s Abra Patricia Reserve.

booted racket-tailed hummingbird 3

Why should I care about a far-away species?:

I’ve heard a lot of people ask this question, and here’s one of the best ways I’ve found in giving an answer: In his recent book, How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World, Steven Johnson coins the term “Hummingbird Effect” to make the point that innovation in one realm can trigger unpredictable and unexpected advancement in others. As the “butterfly effect” is to chaos theory, so the “hummingbird effect” is to conservation efforts. I not only agree, but I’ve seen dozens of examples of how great conservation projects — such as those to protect bird species, for example — make considerable, sometimes unexpected, contributions to other important causes including amphibian conservation, human health, food safety, climate change, water conservation, etc.

Watch the Booted Racket-tail Hummingbird:

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