White-tailed sabrewing project (2005-2006)

The Environmental Management Authority (EMA) of Trinidad and Tobago sponsored work on the white-tailed sabrewing hummingbird in the Main Ridge Reserve, Tobago, by postgraduate student Daveka Boodram. Her thesis was submitted in 2012 and the M.Phil. in Zoology was awarded in 2013. She currently works as a teacher in Tobago.

Daveka Boodram
c/o Department of Life Sciences
University of the West Indies
St. Augustine
Trinidad and Tobago

The white-tailed Sabrewing (Campylopterus ensipennis) is considered to be globally threatened (Collar et al., 1992). It is found in the Cordillera de Caripe and Paria Peninsula, both in northeast Venezuela, and in Tobago, West Indies. The Tobago population was thought to be extinct after hurricane Flora hit the Island in 1963 when almost all the island's forest was destroyed. The species was then rediscovered in 1974 (ffrench, 1991). The Venezuela population is also under threat by widespread deforestation. The EMA has funded a project on the sabrewing in Tobago from January 2005; additional support has been received from the Tobago House of Assembly and UWI, St. Augustine.

The white-tailed Sabrewing is the largest hummingbird in Tobago. It is 12cm long and weighs approximately 10g, with a slightly decurved black bill. ffrench (1991) gives a description of the habitat and status, range, measurements, voice, food, nesting and behaviour of the Tobago population. According to ffrench the Tobago population was previously a common resident in hill-forested areas, the montane forest of the Main Ridge Forest Reserve. ffrench believed that his rediscovery of the species in 1974 indicated a gradual re-establishing of the population. Dr Floyd Hayes (formerly of Caribbean Union College, Port of Spain, and UWI, St. Augustine) initiated a study "Project Sabrewing" in 1995. Sabrewings were found at elevations above 280 m in mature montane forest, and in open areas such as the edges of clearings, in patches of forest in abandoned plantations, and in regenerating forest less than 15 m tall, suggesting plasticity in ecological requirements. In Venezuela the species is a locally common resident in coffee plantations, forest borders, and light woodland; they are much less numerous inside montane forest.

Hayes' group attempted to determine the distribution and population size of the white-tailed sabrewing using trail surveys, and banded 81 birds caught in mist nets. They described the current status of the sabrewing as being widely scattered from Mt. Dillon in the west to Hermitage Hill in the east, but absent (maybe rare) in parts of their former range including Hillsborough Reservoir in the Southwest and Pigeon Peak in the east, suggesting that the population was still in the process of expanding to these areas. Information on the distribution (former range) of the Sabrewing before 1963 is lacking. The current study uses mist netting, trail surveys and behavioural observations to continue study of this vulnerable species, which was declared one of the first three Environmentally Sensitive Species by the EMA in 2005 (the other two being the piping guan or pawi, and the manatee). Behavioural observations concentrate on reproduction, which is thought to involve a lek (Hayes et al., 1997).

Daveka Boodram studied the sabrewing between January 2005 and December 2006, with volunteer assistants recruited internationally through the internet (www.osnabirds.org/on/ornjobs.htm). In 2005 Tricia Rodriguez (USA) helped from January to March, Jennifer Corlett (Canada) from April to June, and Maren Gimpel and Daniel Small (USA) from October to December. One bird banded by Project Sabrewing (in 1999) was recaptured in 2005, out of a total of 129 sabrewings captured in 2005 and 2006. Individuals were colour marked to help study the behaviour and breeding requirements of the sabrewing, especially the lekking system. A poster on preliminary results was given at the 15th Annual Conference of the Society for the Conservation and Studies of Caribbean Birds (SCSCB) in Guadeloupe, July 30th-August 6th 2005.





Collar, N.J. et al. (1992). Threatened Birds of the Americas. The ICBP/IUCN Red Data Book, 3rd edition, part 2. Cambridge: International Council for Bird Preservation.

ffrench, R.P. (1991). A Guide to the Birds of Trinidad and Tobago. 2nd ed. Cornell University Press, Princeton, New Jersey. 836 pp.

Hayes, F.E. (Ed.) (1995). Project Sabrewing: Status, ecology and behaviour of the white-tailed sabrewing (Campylopterus ensipennis) on Tobago, West Indies. 1995 annual report. 36 pp. Port of Spain: Caribbean Union College.

Hayes, F.E., Garnett, T.O., Bernard, M.V., Bullard, A.L., Hardy, D.R., Wilson, D-A. D., Wilson, D.J., Joseph , V.L., and St. Louis, D.K. (1997). Behavioral ecology of territorial male White-tailed Sabrewings (Campylopterus ensipennis) evidence for lek polygyny. Pitirre 10: 27-28.

Hayes, F.E., Trimm, N.A., Sanasie, B., and ffrench, R.P. (2000). Breeding biology of the white-tailed sabrewing at Tobago, West Indies. J. Field Ornithol. 71: 597-605.

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