The Blue-tailed Emerald Hummingbird (Chlorostilbon mellisugus) is a small, vibrantly colored hummingbird found in parts of Central and South America. With its glittering blue-green plumage and long, elegant tail feathers, this species is considered one of the most beautiful hummingbirds in the world.
The blue-tailed emerald belongs to the trochilidae family of hummingbirds. It is a medium-sized hummingbird, measuring about 9-10 cm in length and weighing around 5 grams. Some key identifying features of this species include its bright blue-green head and back, white underside, and long forked tail feathers which are blackish-blue with white tips. The male has a more vibrant blue crown and gorget (throat feathers), while the female is slightly duller with a pale gray throat.
This agile hummingbird lives in a range of habitats across Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Bolivia and northwestern Brazil. Its preferred homes are forest edges, second growth, semi-open areas and gardens where there is plenty of nectar-bearing flowers and shrubs. The blue-tailed emerald utilizes its specialized long bill to drink nectar, and also feeds on small insects which provides it with essential proteins.
Breeding and Nesting
The breeding season for blue-tailed emeralds depends on their range, but typically occurs between March to June. Males perform elaborate courtship displays, flying in loops and dives to impress females. Once paired, the female builds a delicate cup-shaped nest out of plant fibers, leaves and moss, anchored to a tree branch.
She lays two tiny white eggs and incubates them for about 15-19 days. The chicks hatch with eyes closed and almost no feathers. Both parents feed regurgitated food to the chicks which fledge in around 22-26 days, quite a rapid development compared to many other birds. The blue-tailed emerald is territorial and males may continue their mesmerizing diving displays to ward off intruders even after breeding.
Interestingly, northern populations of the blue-tailed emerald are migratory, moving southward to warmer climates in Central America during the winter months of October to March. Southern populations in South America do not migrate and remain resident year-round. It is still not fully understood what environmental cues trigger this migratory behavior in the northern emerald populations.
Widespread and relatively common throughout its large range in South and Central America, the blue-tailed emerald is evaluated as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. However, populations may be declining locally in some areas due to habitat loss from deforestation for agriculture and urbanization. Gardens with native plants, and preserved natural forest habitats help provide sanctuary for these glittering hummingbirds.
The blue-tailed emerald is aptly named for its exceptionally vibrant plumage. The male has iridescent emerald green upperparts and crown, appearing to shimmer in bright light. The lower breast and belly is snowy white. Gorget feathers on the throat shine with an iridescent turquoise-blue. The tail is long, forked and dramatic, with blackish-blue outer feathers tipped in white. The female is similar but less vibrant, with pale gray underparts and a grayish wash on the throat.
Both sexes have a thin dark bill adapted for drinking nectar. Legs and feet are blackish. Juveniles resemble adult females but with buffy flecking on the throat and breast. The blue-tailed emerald produces a high-pitched buzzing sound with its rapidly beating wings which move at an average of 12-15 beats per second during flight.
Diet and Feeding
Like all hummingbirds, the blue-tailed emerald is specialized for feeding on sugary flower nectar which provides the bulk of its diet. Its long bill and extendable tongue allows it to delve into flowers and extract the calorie-rich nectar. It prefers feeding on the nectar of plants such as lantana, fuchsia, coral vine and crown flower. To get protein, the emerald also forages on tiny insects like gnats, aphids and spiders.
The blue-tailed emerald feeds mainly while hovering in front of flowers, using its specialized rapid wing beats to stay suspended while extracting nectar or picking insects off foliage. The highly caloric diet requires the hummingbird to consume about half its weight in nectar each day! This is crucial to power its supercharged metabolism and enable the energetic hovering flight needed to feed.
Behavior and Ecology
The beautiful blue-tailed emerald shows some interesting behaviors and adaptations to its way of life. It is a fast, agile flier with good maneuverability able to fly forwards, backwards and laterally, as well as hovering in place. When perched, it frequently fans and erects its elegant tail feathers.
Males are highly territorial, using song and aggressive chasing dives to drive intruders away from their preferred nectar sources and mating areas. Their courtship displays serve the double duty of attracting females and warning off potential competitors.
Blue-tailed emeralds utilize torpor, slowing their metabolism and entering a sleep-like state to conserve energy on cooler nights. They have good vision adapted to detecting flowers and small prey while feeding on the wing. Their hearing is also keen, helping detect the high-pitched songs of other hummingbirds.
Threats and Survival
A wild blue-tailed emerald faces many potential threats during its lifetime. Predators like birds of prey may ambush the hummingbird while it is feeding. Parasites like mites can infest its feathers and beak. Collisions with windows and buildings or accidents like getting stuck in foliage can prove fatal for the tiny bird.
Hummingbirds also face threats from humans in the form of habitat loss as forests are cleared and urban areas expand. Pesticides can contaminate the nectar and insects they feed on. Introduced species may compete for food sources. However, hummingbirds are resilient and adaptable, and can utilize gardens and modified landscapes that provide suitable flowers, feeders and nest sites. Conserving their natural habitats alongside human developments can ensure the blue-tailed emerald continues to shimmer over the landscapes of Central and South America.
Significance to Ecosystems
Despite its small size, the blue-tailed emerald plays an important ecological role. Like other hummingbirds, it pollinates flowers as it feeds on nectar. By transferring pollen from flower to flower, the emerald helps propagate the next generation of plants. Its preferred flowers tend to be specialized for pollination by long-billed hummingbirds.
The emerald also contributes to controlling insect populations as it preys on tiny invertebrates to meet its needs for protein. And once the hummingbird itself dies, its body decomposes and releases nutrients back into the environment to be recycled into new life and growth. Overall, this dazzling species helps maintain balanced, healthy ecosystems through its daily activities. Seeing those beautiful flashes of blue and green in South American forests and gardens shows that an area still provides a suitable habitat for wildlife.
With its stunning colors and agile flight, the blue-tailed emerald hummingbird has long captivated humans across its range. Many indigenous groups incorporated the emerald into myths and folklore, with its bright colors and feisty behavior lending this small bird a bold character in stories.
This hummingbird adorns artwork and handicrafts in areas it inhabits, a favorite subject for its gem-like shimmer. It also features prominently in celebrations for its perceived relationship to joy, vitality and colorfulness. In modern times, the blue-tailed emerald draws birdwatchers and ecotourists hoping to spot it visiting tropical gardens or forests. Its popularity indicates that this diminutive hummingbird continues to hold an outsized place in local cultures.
The blue-tailed emerald appears to have a strong future outlook at this time. While some populations may face local pressures from habitat loss, it remains relatively common overall and capable of adapting to human-altered environments if sufficient flowers and nest sites are available. However, climate change poses an emerging threat that could destabilize populations in the long term.
Warmer temperatures may change flowering patterns, desynchronizing plant and pollinator lifecycles. Increased droughts or severe weather could also reduce flower availability. The hummingbird’s preferred cloud forest habitats are especially vulnerable to changes in precipitation and temperature that could degrade the ecosystem. Protecting tracts of primary forest from further fragmentation will likely be crucial for buffering blue-tailed emerald populations against future changes.
Ongoing monitoring of the charming blue-tailed emerald will be needed to detect any declines that warrant more active conservation. But for now, the future remains bright for this jewel-like species as it continues to add its glinting colors, aerial dances and energetic buzzing to the tropical landscapes it calls home. If we wish to continue enjoying its beauty and ecologic vibrancy, careful stewardship of its habitat will be key.
Few birds capture the imagination quite like tiny, shimmering hummingbirds darting among tropical flowers. The blue-tailed emerald is one of the most exquisite of its kind, with the male’s iridescent blue-green plumage and deeply forked tail earning it a reputation as one of the world’s most beautiful hummingbirds.
While small, this species plays an integral role in pollination and insect population control, while brightening forests and gardens with its colorful presence. Though widespread, habitat loss is a concern for the blue-tailed emerald’s future. But this adaptable species delights people across its range, whether featured in indigenous stories or sought by modern ecotourists. If protected areas preserve intact chunks of its sensitive cloud forest and secondary forest habitat, the blue-tailed emerald will hopefully continue dazzling human viewers and serving its ecological purpose for a long time to come.