The emerald-chinned hummingbird, scientifically known as Abeillia abeillei, is a small, colorful hummingbird found in Costa Rica and western Panama. With its vibrant green throat and belly, blue crown, and red bill, this species is truly a jewel of Central America’s avifauna. Measuring just 3.5-4 inches in length and weighing a mere 2-3 grams, the emerald-chinned hummingbird is nonetheless a fierce competitor at nectar sources, using its slender bill to probe flowers and lap up nectar with its extendable tongue.
The emerald-chinned hummingbird’s plumage is striking and distinctive. The male has a brilliant metallic emerald green throat and underparts, which abruptly change to a bright blue crown and nape. A bold white postocular stripe extends behind its eyes. Its back is a glittering golden green, and its forked tail is mostly black with white outer tail feathers. The female is similar, but has a light gray throat and belly rather than emerald green. Both sexes have a straight, thin red bill. Juveniles resemble adult females but with buffy edges to their plumage feathers.
This hummingbird’s tiny size belies its fierce nature. The emerald-chinned hummingbird has a rapid wingbeat and can hover and fly backwards with great agility. Its wings may beat up to 70 times per second during normal flight and up to 200 times per second during courtship displays. This allows it to precisely maintain its position while feeding or engaging in aerial battles with intruders.
Range and Habitat
The emerald-chinned hummingbird is endemic to Costa Rica and western Panama. Its breeding range is mainly along the Pacific slope from northwestern Costa Rica to eastern Panama, while its winter range extends into foothills up to 5000 feet in elevation. This species inhabits tropical evergreen forests, forest edges, second growth woodland, and gardens and plantations providing sufficient flowers.
Food and Feeding
Like all hummingbirds, the emerald-chinned hummingbird subsists mainly on nectar from flowering plants and small arthropods such as insects and spiders. It favors nectar from the flowers of plants in the Rubiaceae family, including Hamelia, Chiococca, Warszewiczia, and Guettarda species. It also forages at trees in the Bignoniaceae family including Tabebuia and cypress pines (Cupressus lusitanica). This hummingbird uses its specialized extendable tongue to lap up nectar while hovering in front of flowers. It also gleans small insects from leaves and blossoms. The protein from insects is an important supplement to its energy-rich sugary nectar diet.
The breeding season of the emerald-chinned hummingbird corresponds with the beginning of the rainy season from May to November. As with other hummingbirds, elaborate courtship displays precede mating. Males perform aerial displays, flying in loops up to 130 feet in the air and then diving at breakneck speed past females. In direct competition for mates, males may also participate in high-speed chases and physical skirmishes.
Once paired, the female builds a small cup nest on a low horizontal branch or piece of woody debris. She constructs it out of plant fibers, down, and lichens, binding it together with spider silk. The exterior is camouflaged with bits of lichen and moss. The female lays two white eggs which she incubates alone for 15-19 days. The chicks hatch with their eyes sealed shut and only a hint of down. They develop quickly, molting and leaving the nest at only 20-26 days old. The female continues to feed them for up to two weeks after fledging.
The emerald-chinned hummingbird has a relatively broad range and is fairly common within Costa Rica and Panama. Its population is estimated to be over 50,000 mature individuals and is reportedly stable. However, some localized declines have occurred due to habitat loss. Reforestation efforts in parts of its range are believed to be benefitting the species. The emerald-chinned hummingbird is currently classified as Least Concern by the IUCN Red List.
– Its scientific name “abeillei” refers to a Mr. Abeille de Perrin, who collected natural history specimens in the region in the late 1800s.
– Costa Rica’s Tobosi Natural Reserve was established in part to protect critical breeding habitat for the emerald-chinned hummingbird.
– Males perform courtship displays up to 6 hours a day during peak breeding season. Their wings may beat up to 200 times per second during these aerial shows.
– Hummingbirds have uniquely structured feathers containing pigments that produce their brilliant iridescent colors. The emerald-chinned hummingbird’s throat likely appears emerald green due to a combination of yellow carotenoid and blue melanin pigments in its feathers.
– Hummingbirds have the highest metabolic rate per unit weight of any vertebrate. To meet their extreme energy needs, hummingbirds visiting flowers may lap up nectar at a rate of up to 13 licks per second.
With its scintillating green chin and belly, the aptly named emerald-chinned hummingbird is truly one of Central America’s most exquisite birds. Though diminutive in size, it packs immense energy and personality into its tiny body. This species’ beauty and vigor make it a standout amidst Costa Rica and Panama’s stunning biodiversity. As development and agriculture continue to reshape its native landscape, conservation will be needed to preserve the unique habitats on which this gem of a hummingbird depends.