Chiroxiphia are large, short-tailed manakins (Pipridae); the males are mostly black, with a blue back and small red or yellow crown patch, and females are mostly green. The male Long-tailed Manakin has a predominantly black body, a striking blue mantle, a red crown, and strikingly long but very narrow central rectrices. Males take five years to develop the definitive adult plumage. Female Long-tailed Manakins are predominately olive. This species occurs along the Pacific slope of Central America, stretching from southern Mexico to northwestern Costa Rica. Long-tailed Manakins are known for their lekking behavior, mating dances, and extensive vocal repertoire.
The four other species in the genus Chiroxiphia are similar to the Long-tailed Manakin in both appearance and behavior, although none of these species overlaps geographically with Long-tailed. All four - the Lance-tailed Manakin (C. lanceolata), Blue-backed Manakin (C. pareola), Swallow-tailed Manakin (C. caudata), and the Yungas Manakin (C. boliviana) - present the same red or yellow crown patch and blue back (Snow 1971, Foster 1987, McDonald 2003, DuVal 2005, DuVal 2007). The most distinct difference in appearance between the Long-tailed Manakin and these other manakins is the length of the central rectrices in adult male birds (Snow 2004). However, despite their striking resemblance, it is difficult to confuse these birds with one another because of their geographical ranges. The Lance-tailed Manakin resides in southern Central America and is not found north of southwestern Costa Rica (DuVal 2005). The Blue-backed Manakin is found along the Amazon Basin, Guyana, and eastern Brazil (Snow 1971). The Swallow-tailed Manakin has a predominantly blue body and resides only in southern Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay (Foster 1987). Yungas Manakins are found in Bolivia and southern Peru (McDonald 2003, Brumfield 2004). Additionally, Lance-tailed and Swallow-tailed Manakins reach their definitive plumage one year earlier than the Long-tailed Manakin (DuVal 2005).
The following description is based on Ridgway (1907) and Kirwan and Green (2011).
Adult male: Forehead, lores, sides of head, nape, wings, rump, uppertail coverts, tail, and entire underparts uniform, deep black. Center of crown bright crimson, these feathers narrow and stiffened. Back and scapulars bright blue (azure or cerulean). The two central rectrices are narrow and greatly elongated, and usually are of slightly different lengths. Underwing black.
Adult female: Upperparts oloive green. Underparts paler olive green, paler and often more grayish on the chin and throat, and even paler (olive whitish) on the lower belly and undertail coverts (McDonald 1989b, Doucet et al. 2007). Some females have some red in the center of the crown.
Juvenile: Similar to adult females, with lighter feathers on the belly (Doucet et al. 2007).
Nestlings: The young have reddish-brown skin and grayish-brown natal down. They have yellow gapes and mouth linings, small bills with black tips, and they commonly hatch without rectrices. They have reddish-brown skin and grayish-brown natal down that grow on the superciliary and occipital areas of the capital tract on their heads, as well as the entirety of the dorsal and femoral tracts (Foster 1976).
Both male and female Long-tailed Manakins present identical olive-green plumages in their first year (Doucet et al. 2007). Juvenile male Long-tailed Manakins typically present an all-green plumage. During their second year they begin to develop a red crown, and from their second to fifth years of age, their green feathers are gradually replaced with the black feathers that are characteristic of adult definitive plumage (Foster 1987). Female Long-tailed Manakins molt most commonly between May and July; males experience peak molt between July and October (Doucet et al. 2007).
Male plumage sequence: Males take five years to reach their definitive plumage, which is unusually long for passerines of this size. The leks of these manakins are organized in an age-based hierarchy, and age is most prominently distinguished by plumage; this suggests a reason behind the long maturation of these birds in their plumage (Foster 1977b, McDonald 1989a, McDonald 1989b, Doucet et al. 2007). Their first green plumage develops in the nest, and their first prebasic molt occurs within four months of fledging.
Definitive plumage: Beginning in their fifth year (39 months and older), Long-tailed Manakins present their definitive adult plumage. Their bodies and wings are fully black, their crown bright red, and their mantle vivid blue (Doucet et al. 2007).
Third basic plumage: Termed “blue-black plumage” by Doucet et al. (2007), this is the plumage of four-year-old Long-tailed Manakins, generally occurring between 27 and 39 months of age. This molt is the last before their definitive adult plumage, and they present a mixture of black and green feathers on their body and wings and a more developed red crown. Feathers on their mantle are a mixture of blue and green. This plumage stage is extremely variable, as some birds molt more feathers than others; some have more definitive mantles and black bodies, while others appear more juvenile (Doucet et al. 2007).
Second basic plumage: This is called “black-face plumage” and occurs between 15 and 27 months of age, In their third year, this molt is characterized by a predominantly olive-green body with a slightly more developed red crown and the beginnings of a black face. Males in this stage rarely present with the beginnings of blue mantle feathers (Doucet et al. 2007).
First basic plumage: Known as “red-cap plumage,” this molt occurs within 4-15 months of hatching, in the second year of the bird’s life. This stage is characterized by olive-green plumage and the development of red feathers in the crown. Some males grow more red feathers than others, so the size of the cap in males’ second year can be quite variable, ranging from two thin stripes to a continuous red crown. Rarely, males will begin to develop some black flecks on their faces during this molt (Doucet et al. 2007).
Juvenal plumage: Within the first four months of hatching, males and females present identical olive-green plumages (Doucet et al. 2007).
Female plumage: Adult female Long-tailed Manakins resemble their juvenile plumage. They have olive-green bodies, wings, and heads. Some females present variable yellow-brown feathers on their crowns, which begins to develop after their second year. This is sometimes confused with males in red-cap plumage, especially because both females and males in this plumage stage have such a wide range of crown development, from just a few feathers to a full crown. However, female crowns are a more tawny color, as opposed to the brighter red of the males’ crowns (McDonald 1989b, Doucet et al. 2007).
Iris: dark reddish brown (Kirwan and Green 2011), black (Doucet et al. 2007)
Bill: black (Kirwan and Green 2011); mouth linings are pale pink (Doucet et al. 2007)
Tarsi and toes: dull yellow-orange to orange or even pinkish red (Kirwan and Green 2011)
Long-tailed Manakins are approximately 10 cm long, excluding the middle rectrices of the long tail (Foster 1976). The tail, also excluding the central rectrices, is about 3-3.5 cm long (Foster 1976). According to Snow (2004), the Long-tailed Manakin is 11.5 cm in length, excluding the tail extensions, which are 10-15 cm in males and 2-3 cm in females. Bills of males are 11.41 mm, females 11.82 mm. Males’ tarsi measure 18.67 mm, females 17.34 mm (Kirwan 2011). Males’ wings are approximately 68.6 mm in length, and females’ are 69.5 mm long. Tails for males are 32.7 mm long, females 33.6 mm long.
Mass: Breeding males weigh 16-18 g, while predefinitive males weigh 18-20 g. Females weigh between 20 and 23 g (McDonald 1993). Nestlings weigh 8-10 grams, about half the weight of adult manakins, and their bills are about 3 mm long (Foster 1976).