The White-eared Hummingbird – also known as ‘zafiro oreja blanca’, Spanish for ’sapphire white ear’ – is a small hummingbird that grows to a length of 3.5-3.9 inches, and weighs at about 3-4 grams. It thrives in the high tropical mountains, and is a rare breeder in the United States.
Similar to many other hummingbirds, adult White-eared Hummingbirds also have a predominant green coloration on their upperparts and breast. The feathers that cover the undertail are predominantly white. The straight tail showcases a bronze green shade.
Both males and females are distinguished for having a white ear stripe stretches from its eyes across ears down to the chest, for which the species was named. Also, both have a long, thin, and slightly decurved red bill that has a black tip.
The throat of the male has a metallic turquoise green color. The crown and face are colored purple and black. He has a deep green back that has a rusty wash. His slightly notched tail is bronze green, with the outer feathers noticeably darker than the inner ones. The color of his lower abdomen and undertail is white.
The male has a short, straight, and very slender bill. It has a red color that comes with a small black tip. For mature males, a broad blue violet band encircles the base of the bill.
The female, on the other hand, is remarkably less colorful compared to the male. Her throat has a pale-cream color, with some speckles that are golden green to turquoise green. She has deep back and crown. She also showcases the species’ unique feature – the broad white line behind the eye that comes with a broad blackish stripe below. Her underparts are mostly buffy-white with some green spotting. While the feathers in her tail closely resemble that of the male, the lateral ones have greyish-white tips.
The female’s bill has a black color, with some red-orange coloration at the base. She has a slightly notched tail and white-tipped outer tail feathers.
The juvenile birds closely resemble the adult female, both in color and size. However, the juvenile female exhibits pale feathers edges and a darker bill. On the other hand, the juvenile male showcases a unique green throat patch and a more intense reddening in the bill.
It’s worth noting that female and immature White-eared Hummingbirds closely resemble the female and immature male Broad-billed Hummingbird, except that they have a longer, stouter bill, and a smaller, more rounded head.
The diet of White-eared Hummingbirds primarily consists of nectar from flower and flowering trees. Their most-preferred flowers are red colored and tubular-shaped, because these are usually the ones with the highest sugar content. They use their long, extendable tongue in deriving nectar from these plant sources.
Aside from nectar, they also catch small insects on the wing by gleaning from bark, leaves, and other surfaces.
Aside from nectar and insects, they also visit local hummingbird feeders for some sugar water.
Distribution and Habitat
White-eared Hummingbirds are territorial in nature. They are often observed at the lower and middle levels of the forest, near the banks of low flowers. Their preferred habitat locations are pine-oak, oak, and pine-evergreen forests. They also live in flower-filled clearings.
Their breeding location is in pine oak forests from southeastern Arizona, southern New Mexico, and western Texas through the Sierra Madre Occidental and Sierra Madre Oriental of northern Mexico and the Cordillera Neovolcanica of southern Mexico to southern Nicaragua. Despite its few appearances, White-eared Hummingbirds are known to be regular summer residents in the Madrean sky islands of southeastern Arizona. In the southernmost portions of their breeding range, these birds go to as far as Cabo San Lucas in the Baja.
On some parts of the year, the northern populations of the species tend to migrate, while the southern populations only show altitudinal movements.
Behavior and Appetite
White-eared Hummingbirds are known for their metallic chipping song.
As solitary birds, White-eared Hummingbirds spend almost all aspects of their lives alone. They don’t live or migrate in flocks. There is also no bonding formed between pairs. Indeed, the only active involvement of the male in the reproductive process is the actual mating itself.
During courtship, the male flies in a U-shaped pattern in front of the female. He will leave the female right after copulation, probably to mate with other females. This also goes with the females.
The females construct the nest on their own. She will build a cup-shaped nest that is made out of plant fibers that are woven together. The nest is camouflaged with green moss and lichens on the outside. After lining the nest with soft plant fibers, animal hair and feather down, the nest will be strengthened with the help of spider silk strands. As the chicks grow, the nest will also stretch to double its size. The nests of different females are placed very close to each other.
The female lays 2 white eggs in average. The incubation period for these eggs will run for about 14 to 16 days. The young White-eared Hummingbirds are generally in a helpless condition upon hatching. They fledge the nest after 23-26 days.
The White-eared Hummingbird is a common species throughout its breeding range. It is also classified under the ‘Least Concern’ category of the IUCN.
It’s very large range, as well as its extremely large population, show that it is not approaching the thresholds for Vulnerable. While the population trend may not be known, the species’ population is not believed to be decreasing sufficiently rapidly to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable.