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Marvelous Spatuletail (Photo by ECOAN, Tino Aucca)

The National Hummingbird Day was celebrated this past Saturday and I could not think of another way to celebrate it than by sharing a story between a friend who has a special connection with an endemic species of Peru. This is the story of my friend Santos Montenegro and the famous Marvelous Spatuletail, the bird that changed his life.

I met Santos a while ago when I went to look for this hummingbird. He was born in San Lucas de Pomacochas in the department of Amazonas, an area that despite having a very high diversity and a huge potential for natural history tourism in Peru, it does not receive the attention or promotion that it should from the Peruvian state. Like many people in the area, Santos worked on his farm to provide for his family. Every day, very early, Santos went out to see his cows and take care of his crops.

In 2000 Santos met a group of 5 birders who asked him if he knew the Marvelous Spatuletail and where to find it. Santos, with the calm that characterizes him, told them that yes, they could see it easily in his farm. He had seen this and other species but he had no idea how important it was to these birders and how that bird would change his life. After arriving at the place where he had seen him, they were scanning the area until at one point Santos noticed one and pointed to everyone to see it. The birders just burst in joy and happiness and started running like kids for the excitement. A few days later another group came and so little by little more people began to look for Santos to see the Marvelous Spatuletail.

Santos Montenegro: “A birdie changed my life” (photo from Conservamos por Naturaleza)

Santos became more and more interested in birds. A tourist gave him a pair of binoculars and he began to study and learn the birds of the area to such an extent that he is currently one of the experts on the birds of this part of Peru, especially the Marvelous Spatuletail. Santos’ knowledge of this species is unparalleled. He knows which flowers it prefers, at what time of year they bloom, when they reproduce, the courtship, who preys on them, where they nest and many important details of the biology and ecology of this species that have not been well documented until today.

Santos saw the opportunity to start developing tourism on his property and began to plant different types of plants to attract other species of birds. At the same time, using plastic bottles and balloon ring clips, he developed hummingbird feeders from recycled materials that were quickly accepted by the hummingbirds of the area.

Santos became increasingly concerned about deforestation in his area and how this affects the habitat of the Marvelous Spatuletail. For that, he left a large part of his property undeveloped to maintain the habitat of the Marvelous Spatuletail. I remember conversations with Santos about deforestation, fires and habitat loss and how this situation mortified him.

Huembo Lodge (Photo, Carlos Calle)

Years later, ECOAN (Asociación de Ecosistemas Andinos), a Peruvian organization dedicated to the conservation of Andean ecosystems, contacted Santos and hired him as the manager of the Huembo reserve, a protected area that covers approximately 32 hectares in the Utcubamba valley instead which was destined to protect this species as well as others.

Like any project that starts from scratch, the work required a great deal of effort but above all a lot of patience. They began reforesting the area with different plant species to attract the Marvelous Spatuletail at the same time an strategy was developed to attract them to the hummingbird feeders, a process that normally takes a lot of time and patience but above all, something that had never been attempted with this species before and they did not know if it would be successful.

A male Marvelous Spatuletail taking a rest displaying its feathers (Photo by Carlos Calle)

It took about eight months for some hummingbirds to begin to visit the feeders that Santos had been hanging in the area and it took 4 more months for the Marvelous Spatuletail to finally appear… Almost a year of waiting! I remember when Santos told me, I could perceive the excitement in his voice, “I got goosebumps when I saw him” he told me!

Waiting for the Marvelous Spatuletail at the hummingbird feeders in Huembo (Photo by Daniel Lebbin)

Santos currently continues to work with ECOAN on a series of reforestation and agroforestry projects with local people to develop sustainable agriculture techniques to minimize the impacts of agriculture in the region and promote the protection and conservation of this area as well as tourism.

In all these years that I have returned to look for the Marvelous Spatuletail, it is always gratifying to meet Santos and learn from him, about his findings and new birds he has seen and are coming to the gardens in Huembo. Many times we have gone out together to look for other birds and it really ia a luxury to watch birds with him. If you want to meet Santos personally and see the Marvelous Spatuletail, the bird that changed his life, be sure to visit the Huembo Lodge. The place has a group of cabins very comfortable with hot water and electricity as well as great food…Highly recommended!


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