Red-billed streamertail

The red-billed streamertail (Trochilus polytmus), also known as the doctor bird, scissor-tail or scissors tail hummingbird, is indigenous to Jamaica, where it is the most abundant and widespread member of the hummingbird family. While most authorities now consider it a separate species, some (including the American Ornithologists' Union) continue to consider it conspecific with the black-billed streamertail. The red-billed streamertail is the national bird of Jamaica.[2]

Red-billed streamertail
Red-billed streamertail( Trochilus polytmus) adult male 2.jpg
Adult male, Jamaica
Red-billed streamertail (Trochilus polytmus) female.jpg
Female, Jamaica
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Apodiformes
Family: Trochilidae
Genus: Trochilus
T. polytmus
Binomial name
Trochilus polytmus

When the black-billed streamertail of eastern Jamaica (found mostly in the parish of Portland) is considered a separate species, the red-billed streamertail occurs west of a line from Morant Bay following the Morant River, and via Ginger House and the middle Rio Grande to Port Antonio.[3]

These birds feed on nectar from flowers using a long extendable tongue or catch small insects on the wing. The next-to-outermost rectrices of the male are 15–18 centimetres (6–7 in) long, far longer than its bearer's body. Females lack the elongated rectrices, and are largely white below. Adult males in flight produce a distinctive whirring flight sound. The whirring is synchronised with the wingbeats and video footage shows primary feather eight (P8) bending with each downstroke, creating a gap that produces the fluttering sound.[4] Bird sound other than via vocal organs is referred to as sonation.

The bird is featured in Ian Fleming's James Bond short story For Your Eyes Only. The first line of the book reads, "The most beautiful bird in Jamaica, and some say the most beautiful bird in the world, is the streamer-tail or doctor humming-bird."


The adult male measures 4.5 inches (11.5 cm) without the 'streamers'. With the streamers, it measures 10 inches (25 cm). The crown and tail are black. The feathers at the nape of the neck form tufts. The body is a bright iridescent green. The bill is red with a black tip. The 'black-billed' streamertail is identical in every respect except for the colour of the bill, but is a slightly smaller bird. The female's crown, neck and back are pale green. The lores are pale brown, the wings dark brown, and the tail black with outer feathers tipped with white. The underparts are white. The bill has a dark brown upper mandible and pinkish-brown lower mandible.[5]


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2012). "Trochilus polytmus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2012. Retrieved 26 November 2013.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
  2. ^ "National Symbols of Jamaica". Retrieved 2011-12-02.
  3. ^ Frank B. Gill; F. J. Stokes & C. Stokes (1973). "Contact zones and hybridization in the Jamaican hummingbird, Trochilus polytmus (L.)" (PDF). The Condor. 75 (2): 170–176. doi:10.2307/1365864. JSTOR 1365864.
  4. ^ Clark CJ (2008). "Fluttering wing feathers produce the flight sounds of male streamertail hummingbirds". Biol Lett. 4 (4): 341–4. doi:10.1098/rsbl.2008.0252. PMC 2610162. PMID 18505711.
  5. ^ Bernal, Frank (1989). Birds of Jamaica. Jamaica: Heinemann Publishers (Caribbean) Ltd. p. 52.

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