The singing assemblies of Little Hermits
Snow, D.W. 1968. The singing assemblies of Little Hermits. Living Bird, 7: 47–55
Cover image: White-phase Gyrfalcon, Falco rusticolus by Louis Agassiz Fuertes.
Singing assemblies of males are known in several species of hummingbirds of the genus Phaethornis, among them the Little Hermit (P. longuemareus). In the Northern Range of Trinidad, where this species is common, the assemblies are typically situated high up on the forested ridges. The singing grounds are traditional and within them the same song perches are occupied year after year.
The singing assemblies are active from November or early December to July when the post-breeding molt occurs. Throughout the active period, each male is at its perch for a high proportion of the daylight hours. One bird, for example, was present for 70% of the entire time. While the bird is on its perch, it sings on the average of once every 2 s, or a total of about 12 000 songs per day.
The song, a high-pitched phrase lasting about 1 s, varies a good deal. Birds with neighboring perches tend to have similar song-types, and at one singing ground the distribution of the song-types persisted largely unchanged over a period of 3 yr. This suggests that males, when they first acquire a song perch, develop a song similar to that of their nearest neighbors.
Several aerial displays are described and provisional suggestions made as to their probable significance. Much more detailed observation, and also experimentation, will be necessary to clarify the relationships between the sexes and between the individual males at the singing assemblies.