The Dusky-throated Hermit (Phaethornis squalidus) is a small hummingbird found in the lowland rainforests of Central and South America. With its sharp black bill and striking plumage, this species is a standout among hummingbirds. In this article, we will explore the identification, distribution, habitat, diet, behavior, reproduction, and conservation status of this fascinating bird.
The Dusky-throated Hermit has a length of about 4 inches (10 cm) and weighs roughly 2-3 grams. The male has glossy green upperparts with a grayish throat and breast. The central tail feathers are rufous-tipped. The female is similar but has paler underparts and lacks the bold rufous tail tips. The straight black bill distinguishes the Dusky-throated Hermit from other hermit hummingbirds which have decurved bills.
Distribution and Habitat
The Dusky-throated Hermit has a wide distribution across Central America and in the western and central Amazon Basin of South America. Its range extends from southern Mexico southward through Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. It is generally localized and uncommon throughout its range.
This species occupies the mid and lower levels of tropical lowland rainforests up to elevations of 2600 feet. It occurs mainly in primary forest as well as older secondary growth. The Dusky-throated Hermit is strongly associated with Heliconia plants and preferentially forages in forest areas where these plants are abundant.
As with most hummingbirds, nectar is the primary food source for the Dusky-throated Hermit. This species favors flowers of Heliconia plants and prefers flowers with long corollas where it can obtain nectar with its specialized long bill. Some favorite Heliconia species include H. imbricata, H. latispatha, H. psittacorum, and H. schiedeana.
The Dusky-throated Hermit supplements its diet with small insects and spiders which are captured in flight or gleaned from foliage. Favored arthropod prey includes flies, beetles, treehoppers, and small bees and wasps.
The Dusky-throated Hermit is usually seen alone or in pairs, only loosely associating with other hummingbird species at nectar sources. It aggressively defends territories around stands of Heliconia plants. Within its territory, this species uses a variety of regular perches from which it makes foraging flights out over adjacent areas of the forest.
Vocalizations play an important role in communication. The male has a typical hermit-like song, a buzzy choppy series of notes given in a wheezy rhythm. Contact calls include sharp “chip” notes. In antagonistic encounters over territories and flower resources, birds give harsh rattling calls.
The breeding season of the Dusky-throated Hermit coincides with peak flowering of its Heliconia food plants, which varies across its range. In Central America breeding occurs primarily from March to July while Amazonian populations breed later in the rainy season from July to October.
As part of courtship, the male performs a hovering display flight in front of the female, flying back and forth in a U-shaped pattern. Once paired, the female builds a small cup nest on a fern, palm, or Heliconia leaf 1-2 meters above ground. She constructs the nest out of plant down bound with spider webs and lays two tiny white eggs. Incubation lasts 15-19 days and the chicks fledge at about 20-26 days of age. The female cares for and feeds the young without any assistance from the male.
The Dusky-throated Hermit is evaluated as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Although it has a patchy distribution, its population trend appears to be stable and it utilizes both primary and secondary forest habitats. Deforestation likely poses the biggest threat regionally, and habitat protection will be key for the continued survival of this species.
Overall, the Dusky-throated Hermit has adapted well to the forest understory niche where it forages primarily on specialized Heliconia flowers. Its unique appearance and behaviors make it a highlight for birdwatchers lucky enough to encounter this hermit in the dim light of the neotropical rainforest interior. With conservation measures in place, the future of this species looks promising.