Geographical variation complex, reflecting a southern origin and progressive morphological change in respect of female throat and breast coloration towards north; variation in tail colour often striking, but other diagnostic characters usually minor; research into vocalizations and other behaviour desirable. Race districta in N Colombia forms “leapfrog” pattern with race smaragdinicollis in Peru and Bolivia. Proposed race peruviana synonymous with smaragdinicollis. Seven subspecies recognized.
9–10 cm; 2·7–5·1 g#R#R. Male has short, straight, black bill; upperparts bottle-green, underparts green with whitish-grey feather fringes; throat patch emerald-green; slightly forked tail glistening bronze. Female has underparts whitish with green spots; chin, throat and upper breast ochre-orange covered with olive-green dots; outer tail feathers with whitish tips. Juvenile similar to adult female. Race districta has violet tail, spots on throat and upper breast of female completely lacking; chloropogon has coppery-red tail, male almost completely black, female almost without spots on throat and upper breast; oreopola has golden-red tail, male has feathers of upperparts with coppery subterminal bars, underparts green with grey fringing, female almost without spots on throat and upper breast; quitensis resembles nominate, but has longer bill and bronze-olive tail; septentrionalis has purple-blue tail shot with green, male underparts white with bronze-olive spots; smaragdinicollis similar to districta but female heavily spotted on throat and upper breast.
ssp districta Santa Marta Metaltail
ssp chloropogon Costa Metaltail
ssp oreopola Merida Metaltail
ssp tyrianthina Tyrian Metaltail
ssp septentrionalis Cajamarca Metaltail
ssp smaragdinicollis Puno Metaltail
Seldom-heard song is a repeated series of weak, high-pitched, lispy notes “seek..sik..see..si..see..sip..see.......see..seek..see..see...” (c. 8 kHz). Frequently heard chase call involves alternating stuttering trills and repeated phrases of squeaky notes “trr..trr..trr..tsi-see-sew-sew...tsi-see-sew-sew...”, and similar variations. Also a brief rattle and short “tsit” or “pit” notes, repeated at intervals.
Occurs in the interior of rather open humid forest, including second growth, cloudforest and moss-clad tree-line scrub; in small patches of Tilandsia-clad wood in semi-arid valleys or in elfin forest patches. Occasionally in areas of ecotone between stunted woodland and páramo, or at patches of brush in lower páramo. Locally displaced from treeline habitats to lower altitudes by members of the M. aeneocauda superspecies in those places where this zone is in a fairly pristine state. Ranges altitudinally between 1500 m and 4200 m, most common at 2500–3300 m; in the coastal mountains of Venezuela most numerous around 2000 m. Forages at the outer canopy of bushes and medium-sized trees.
Food and feeding
Recorded at open flowers of Berberis, Escallonia, Eucalyptus, Eugenia, Hesperomelas, Gaultheria rufescens, Palicourea angustifolia, Palicourea anacardifolia, Manettia coccocypseloides, Rubus, some melastomes, solenads, ericads and Salvia. Forages in hover-flight or clings to flowers while feeding on nectar. Occasionally pierces bases of flowers with long corollas. Insects are caught in the air by hawking. Male establishes feeding territories.
Birds in breeding condition Apr–Aug in Perijá Mts and in E & C Andes of Colombia. Specimens with enlarged gonads found Oct in Ecuador, Jun–Aug in N Bolivia. Eggs in Oct–May (Jun) in W Ecuador. Nest-building female in Jul at Cerro Fonté, E Andes of Colombia. Nest in a pendent mass of moss in a rocky niche or among roots of overhanging bank, 1·8–3 m above the ground. Nest in Cerro Fonté made of moss with pieces of fern and plant fibre with small nest chamber partially roofed over with moss, lacking lining material. Clutch two white eggs; incubation by female. First breeding in second year.
Seasonal altitudinal movements; casually down to 600 m in Venezuela.
Status and conservation
Not globally threatened (Least Concern). CITES II. Common throughout its extensive range, locally very abundant. Presently not at risk due to its wide distribution and its relatively generalized habitat requirements; less sensitive to man-induced environmental changes than other Metallura species and appears to be favoured by moderate forest disturbance. Occurs in Las Cajas National Recreation Area (Ecuador) and numerous other protected areas throughout its range.
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