Buffy Helmetcrest Hummingbird Species

The Buffy helmetcrest (Oxypogon stuebelii) is a species of hummingbird found in Colombia and Ecuador. With its bright buffy orange crest and throat feathers, it is one of the most colorful members of the helmetcrest genus Oxypogon.

The Buffy helmetcrest is a medium-sized hummingbird, measuring around 11-12 cm in length. As its name suggests, it has a prominent semi-erectile buffy orange colored crest on top of its head which is flattened laterally. The crest is made up of six feathers which the bird can raise and lower at will. The throat is also decorated with bright buffy orange iridescent feathers which can appear almost flame-colored in certain lights. The upperparts and flanks are mostly dark green, while the belly is grayish-white. The tail is long, forked and steel blue. The thick bill is mostly black. The males and females look alike.

Distribution and Habitat
The Buffy helmetcrest is endemic to the Andes mountains of Colombia and Ecuador. In Colombia, it occurs on the Central and Western Andean ranges between 1600-3000 m above sea level. In Ecuador, it inhabits the Western Andean slopes and foothills between 1200-2800 m above sea level.

Its natural habitat is subtropical or tropical high-altitude cloud forest and elfin forest. It prefers areas with plenty of flowering plants and a dense vegetation cover. It can be found visiting flowers along forest edges, roadsides, scrublands and gardens.

Like all hummingbirds, the Buffy helmetcrest feeds mainly on nectar taken from colorful flowers of plants such as fuchsias, lantanas, passionflowers and others. It uses its long, specialized bill to drink the nectar while hovering in front the flowers. It also takes some small insects and spiders to meet its nutritional needs.

The Buffy helmetcrest is territorial and solitary for most of the year. Males defend their flower-rich territories aggressively against intruders. They perform courtship displays to visiting females by flying in u-shaped patterns and singing with chirps and squeaks. During the breeding season, females construct a small cup-shaped nest out of plant fibers bound with spider webs on a low branch or tree fork. Two white eggs are laid. The female alone incubates the eggs and cares for the chicks when they hatch after 15-19 days.

Threats and Conservation
Habitat loss due to deforestation is the major threat facing the Buffy helmetcrest. Clearance of cloud forests for agriculture, timber, firewood and grazing has reduced its range. Climate change leading to upward altitudinal shifts of cloud forest zones could also impact the species in the future. Capture for the illegal wildlife trade may pose a threat in some areas.

The Buffy helmetcrest has a relatively wide distribution and is not currently considered globally threatened. Some protected areas like Podocarpus National Park in Ecuador harbor good populations. However, its numbers are generally believed to be decreasing due to ongoing habitat degradation. More research is needed to assess its current population levels and trends across its range. Long-term protection of remaining cloud forest habitats will be key for the conservation of this colorful high-altitude hummingbird.

Fun Facts

– The bright orange plumes on the Buffy helmetcrest are highly iridescent and can glitter brightly when the light strikes them at certain angles. This is thought to help with mate attraction and territorial displays.

– Unlike most hummingbirds, the helmetcrest’s wings make a loud whirring sound in flight that can help locate these birds in dense foggy forests. The wings beat up to 15 times per second.

– The genus name Oxypogon comes from the Greek words oxys meaning sharp and pogon meaning beard, referring to the sharp pointed bristles on the chin.

– Local Colombian names for this species include Coquetón and Parlotear Brillante which mean “Flashy Flirt” and “Chatterbox” respectively, inspired by their vocal territorial behavior.

– Helmetcrests are some of the few hummingbirds that build nests in the open. They use plant fibers and spider silk which expand when wet to construct flexible cup-shaped nests that can grip the branches.

– Buffy helmetcrest chicks hatch with only a thin coat of gray down. By day 7-10 they develop juvenile plumage but still have short bills and no long tail feathers.

In summary, the striking Buffy helmetcrest is a unique high elevation hummingbird adapted to the cold, wet conditions of the Andean cloud forests. While not currently threatened, protecting these fragile ecosystems will be vital for the long-term survival of this colorful species and many other birds restricted to this habitat. More research and monitoring is required to ensure healthy populations of the Buffy helmetcrest remain into the future.