The male Venezuelan sylph (Aglaiocercus berlepschi) is a striking bird, with a dark green glittering crown, shining bronze-green underparts and a distinctive bright blue throat patch, known as a ‘gorget’. The male’s long and broad outer tail feathers are deep violet at the base, fading to blue at the ends, while the central tail feathers are shorter and blue-green in colour. It also has a short black bill (2).
The female Venezuelan sylph is also eye-catching, with green upperparts, a blue crown and throat, and a white breast and belly. The green tail feathers of the female are shorter than the male’s and are slightly forked. The Venezuelan sylph is a member of the Trochilidae, or hummingbird, family (2).
Although not much is known about the Venezuelan sylph, it is thought to behave in a manner typical of other sylph (Aglaiocercus) species. It gathers round flowering plants with other hummingbirds, hovering over the flowers and feeding from the nectar within (5). In addition to feeding from flowers, the Venezuelan sylph, like other sylphs, may also feed on invertebrates(4).
Like other similar species, the Venezuelan sylph is presumed to build moss nests for breeding. The nests usually have entrances at the side, and are typically found fastened to leafy twigs (4).
The Venezuelan sylph is endemic to Venezuela and is found only in the north-eastern part of the country, in the Cordillera de Caripe mountain range. It is considered fairly common within this restricted range (2).
The Venezuelan sylph spends its life close to the coast, usually inhabiting mountainous forests slopes and scrubland up to an altitude of 1,800 metres. The forests have either subtropical or tropical climates and are generally moist environments (2).
The forests that the Venezuelan sylph inhabits must have moss growing among the trees, as the sylph requires this moss as a material to construct its nest (4). Both flowering trees and plants are found within the Venezuelan sylph’s habitat (5).
The major threats that the Venezuelan sylph faces are habitat loss and fragmentation. Farming of crops, such as coffee, mangos, bananas and other tropical fruit, has caused large-scale deforestation and degradation of the Venezuelan sylph’s forest habitat. The increase in cash-crop agriculture, a form of cultivation which produces crops for rapid growth and quick sale, has resulted in uncontrolled burning of forests which also destroys or degrades the Venezuelan sylph’s habitat. A potential risk of further habitat degradation also exists should development plans for road construction and gas pipelines in many areas of Venezuelan forest go ahead (2).
Protection of the Venezuelan sylph’s habitat is essential to the long term survival of this species (2). It is possible that it occurs in the Peninsula de Paria National Park (6), which may afford it some protection (2). Further research is required to confirm the Venezuelan sylph’s presence in the park, and if populations are found, careful monitoring should be carried out to assess the status of the population. Furthermore, populations of the Venezuelan sylph should be studied throughout its fragmented range to identify the trends, population sizes and additional threats to this species’ survival (2).
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