The black-bellied hummingbird is a small, vibrantly colored hummingbird found in Costa Rica and Panama. With its glittering green back, brilliant blue crown, and boldly contrasting black belly, this species is one of the most striking hummingbirds in Central America.
The black-bellied hummingbird reaches lengths of 3.5-4 inches, with females generally being slightly larger than males. As its name suggests, the belly of this hummingbird is a deep, smoky black which contrasts sharply with the bright emerald green back and rump. The tail is mostly blackish with white tips to the outer tail feathers. The crown and throat range from a rich royal blue to a deep violet depending on the angle of the light. The black bill is fairly long and straight.
Males and females have similar plumage, except that females may have slightly greener throats and crowns. Immature black-bellied hummingbirds are duller overall, with buffy edges to the feathers of the back and chest.
Range and Habitat
This species is found along the Pacific slope of the mountains in Costa Rica and western Panama. Its habitats consist of tropical wet and rainforests, forest edges, and second growth woodlands from sea level up to 5,900 feet in elevation.
The black-bellied hummingbird prefers areas with plentiful stands of flowering plants and visits a variety of blooms including banana flowers, heliconias, and various herbs, vines and shrubs. It is more common in the understory and at forest edges than in open areas.
Like all hummingbirds, the black-bellied hummingbird feeds on flower nectar and tiny insects and spiders. It uses its specialized long, slender bill to probe flowers for nectar. The bill’s grooved tongue laps up nectar at an average of 13 licks per second.
The black-bellied hummingbird is aggressive in defending flower clusters or feeders against intrusions from other hummingbirds. It perches while feeding and uses its high metabolism to sustain itself, consuming more than half its weight in nectar each day and visiting hundreds or even thousands of flowers daily.
Insects and spiders provide essential proteins and nutrients to the black-bellied hummingbird’s diet. The bird gleans small arthropods from foliage and also hawk insects in mid-air, often as part of breeding displays.
Breeding and Nesting
The breeding season for the black-bellied hummingbird runs from January through August in Costa Rica, varying by latitude. During courtship displays, the male flies in repeated U-shaped patterns to attract females. If she is receptive to his advances, the female may mate with the displaying male.
The female alone builds the tiny cup-shaped nest out of plant down, moss, lichens and bound with spiderwebs on a thin branch or vine. Two white eggs are laid and incubated by the female for 15-19 days until hatching. The chicks are fed regurgitated nectar and insects by the female. After about 25 days, the young leave the nest and soon disperse.
With a wide range and substantial populations in protected mountain forests, the black-bellied hummingbird is not currently considered threatened. Deforestation remains the largest threat, as clearing of forests for agriculture, logging and development degrades and fragments its specialized highland habitats.
However, its ability to inhabit second growth woodlands and regenerated forests helps it adapt to some habitat changes. Keeping ample intact rainforest environments will help conserve the beautiful and feisty black-bellied hummingbird far into the future.
Fun Facts About the Black-bellied Hummingbird
– The black-bellied hummingbird is the only hummingbird species endemic to Costa Rica. Other hummingbirds found there are more widespread in Central America.
– Its piercing cheeps and chirps sound surprisingly loud and sharp for such a tiny bird. Males are especially vocal during courtship displays.
– This hummingbird shows some flexibility in breeding, with nesting recorded from January to August across its range depending on food availability.
– Those dazzling, iridescent feathers aren’t actually colored pigments – they result from microscopic structures that refract light.
– Hummingbirds like the black-bellied get their common name from the characteristic hum made by their rapid wingbeats, which may exceed 70 beats per second!
– Pugnacious in defending territory, the male black-bellied hummingbird will dive bomb intruders who get too close. High speed chases between battling males are common.
– Hummingbirds have remarkably long tongues – sometimes exceeding the length of their bills and heads! This allows them to drink nectar from long, narrow flowers.
– The Aztecs adorned their ceremonial costumes with hundreds of iridescent hummingbird feathers, honoring what they considered a sacred bird that embodied vigor and energy.
– Black-bellied hummingbirds play an important ecological role as pollinators for tropical flowers that rely on them to transfer pollen from bloom to bloom.
– They are solitary birds that only pair up to mate. The male takes no part in caring for eggs or chicks.
– Their hearts beat over 1,200 times per minute and they take about 250 breaths per minute, reflecting their incredibly rapid metabolic rate.
With its dazzling jewel-tone colors, aerobatic flight, pugnacious spirit, and vital ecological role, the black-bellied hummingbird is truly one of the most spectacular avian residents of Costa Rica’s forests. Conserving its threatened mountain habitats will help protect this special bird for future generations.