The Enchanting Doctor Bird: A Jamaican Icon

The Majestic Red-Billed Streamertail: Jamaica’s National Treasure

Scientific Name: Trochilus polytmus
Other Common Names: Doctor Bird, Swallow Tail Hummingbird (Incorrectly used as the Swallow Tail is a different type)
Range: Jamaica
Diet: Nectar


The Red-billed Streamertail, a dazzling bird endemic to Jamaica, showcases striking sexual dimorphism. Males and females differ distinctly in their appearance:

  • Males: Adorned with bright green, iridescent feathers, males boast long fourth tail feathers known as streamers, which create a unique whirring sound during flight. They average 20-30 cm in length and weigh around 5.2 grams.
  • Females: Females have a duller green plumage and lack the elongated tail feathers. They are smaller, averaging 10.5 cm in length and 4.4 grams in weight.
  • Juveniles: Young males initially resemble females and do not develop streamers until maturity.

Range & Habitat

The Red-billed Streamertail is exclusively found in Jamaica, thriving predominantly on the island's western side. The eastern regions are home to the Black-billed Streamertail, another hummingbird unique to Jamaica. These birds inhabit a variety of environments, including gardens, parks, and forest edges, where they fiercely defend their territories by chasing away other streamertails.


These hummingbirds are drawn to vibrant colors and the sweet scent of nectar. They feed on a variety of tube-shaped, brightly colored flowers. Their long beaks and extendable tongues make nectar extraction efficient. Occasionally, they consume insects, which are particularly crucial for mothers feeding their developing offspring through regurgitation.


Red-billed Streamertails mate year-round, with peak activity from January to May. Males perform a courtship display by hovering and waving their tails to attract females. Successful mating results in the female laying two small, white eggs in a nest crafted from woven plant fibers and cobwebs. The eggs hatch after a 17-19 day incubation period, followed by an 18-24 day fledgling phase. Maternal care continues for 3-4 weeks, and both sexes reach sexual maturity at 2 years old.

Cultural Significance

The Red-billed Streamertail, also known as the Doctor Bird, holds the esteemed title of Jamaica’s National Bird. The origin of the name "Doctor Bird" is debated; some suggest it resembles the long tailcoats worn by doctors of yesteryear, while others believe it refers to the precise way these birds extract nectar with their beaks. Immortalized in Jamaican folklore and song, the Doctor Bird symbolizes the island’s rich natural heritage and cultural identity.Frederic Cassidy notes that the doctor bird is steeped in superstition. The Arawak people believed it possessed magical powers, calling it the "God bird" and viewing it as a reincarnation of dead souls. This belief is echoed in a Jamaican folk song: "Doctor Bud a cunny bud, hard bud fe dead" (It is a clever bird, hard to kill). This reverence highlights the bird’s mystical place in Jamaican culture.

The Name’s Origin

The origin of the name "doctor bird" is a topic of debate. One theory suggests it comes from the bird's resemblance to old-time doctors who wore top hats and long tailcoats, mirrored in the bird's erect black crest and long tail feathers. Another theory points to the bird's feeding habits, likening the way it lances flowers with its bill to a doctor’s needle extracting nectar.

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