The Fawn-breasted Brilliant (Heliodoxa rubinoides) is a medium-sized hummingbird found in the tropical forests of Central and South America. With its glittering green upperparts and creamy underparts, it is one of the most colorful members of the hummingbird family.
The adult male Fawn-breasted Brilliant has bright, shining green upperparts from its crown to lower back. The underparts are a pale fawn color, ranging from creamy buff on the throat to a more tawny hue on the belly. The tail is forked and steel-blue. The relatively short bill is red with a black tip. Females are similar but less brightly colored, with more grayish upperparts and whiter underparts. Juveniles resemble adult females but have buffy fringes to the feathers.
This species measures 10–12 cm (4–5 in) in length and weighs 5–8 g (0.2–0.3 oz). Among standard measurements, the wing chord is 5.1 to 5.9 cm (2.0 to 2.3 in), the tail is 4.6 to 5.4 cm (1.8 to 2.1 in), the bill is 2.2 to 2.5 cm (0.87 to 0.98 in) and the tarsus is 0.9 to 1.1 cm (0.35 to 0.43 in).
Distribution and Habitat
The Fawn-breasted Brilliant is found from Costa Rica south to western Ecuador, and southeastern Colombia and northwestern Venezuela. Its natural habitats are humid lowland and foothill forests, forest edges, second growth, plantations and gardens. It typically occurs from sea level to 1,500 m altitude but may range up to 2,000 m.
This species has a patchy distribution. In Central America it is fairly common on the Caribbean slope from eastern Honduras to central Nicaragua. It is rare and local on the Pacific slope, with isolated populations in southwestern Costa Rica and western Panama. In South America it is widespread across the Chocó region of Colombia and Ecuador. It also occurs in patches along the eastern Andean foothills and the Amazon basin of Colombia and Ecuador.
Behavior and Ecology
The Fawn-breasted Brilliant lives solitary or in pairs. It is territorial, with the male defending flower-rich feeding territories from other hummingbirds. This species visits a wide variety of brightly colored, tubular flowers including heliconias, gingers, salvias, and banana relatives. It plays an important role pollinating these plants. The Fawn-breasted Brilliant will also visit flowers of trees and epiphytes and feed at banana feeders.
Courtship displays by the male involve aerial flights and rapid hovering in front of the female. As with other hummingbirds, mating is brief with no long-term bond between the sexes. The female alone builds the tiny cup nest, incubates the two white eggs for 15-19 days, and raises the chicks. She constructs the nest on a low horizontal branch or in a tree fork, decorating the outside with lichens and bits of bark for camouflage.
Aside from flower nectar, the Fawn-breasted Brilliant takes small insects and spiders as prey. It hawks flying insects in aerial sallies and gleans arthropods from foliage.
While defending feeding territories from other hummingbirds, the male Fawn-breasted Brilliant engages in fast chases and aerial dogfights. This species faces few significant threats beyond habitat loss, although nests are sometimes raided by small snakes and lizards.
Appearance in Culture
The brilliant, shining plumage of hummingbirds like the Fawn-breasted Brilliant has attracted human admirers across the Americas since pre-Columbian times. Many indigenous peoples considered hummingbirds sacred messengers and included hummingbird motifs in their artwork and jewelry.
This species has appeared on postage stamps from Nicaragua and Costa Rica. However it lacks the widespread cultural significance of Central America’s two most famous hummingbirds – the Fiery-throated Hummingbird which is the national bird of Panama, and the Ruby-throated Hummingbird which migrates annually between the eastern U.S. and Central America.
While not an economic resource, the Fawn-breasted Brilliant and other tropical hummingbirds attract birdwatchers and ecotourists. Hummingbird feeders are a huge industry in the Americas because people enjoy observing these energetic little birds in their backyards. This fascination helps promote habitat conservation.
The Fawn-breasted Brilliant has a wide distribution and large total population, estimated at 50,000 to 500,000 individuals. Its population appears to be stable, so the IUCN Red List categorizes it as Least Concern.
However, the species does face threats from habitat loss across its range. Lowland tropical forests have been widely cleared for agriculture, grazing and logging. The Fawn-breasted Brilliant adapts readily to gardens and second growth, which provides some buffer, but it still declines in many degraded landscapes.
This hummingbird occurs in several protected areas, including Tapantí National Park (Costa Rica), Santa Rosa National Park (Costa Rica), Cana National Park (Panama), and Munchique National Park (Colombia). Further habitat conservation within its range will be important for preserving populations. Ecotourism potentially benefits the Fawn-breasted Brilliant through economic incentives to maintain natural areas.
Taxonomy and Systematics
The Fawn-breasted Brilliant is classified in the order Apodiformes, family Trochilidae. It was originally described by French ornithologist Charles Lucien Bonaparte in 1843. Its genus name Heliodoxa comes from the Greek helios meaning “sun” and doxa meaning “glory”, referring to the bird’s iridescent plumage. Its species name rubinoides derives from the Latin rubinus meaning “ruby” and -oides meaning “resembling”, describing its reddish plumage tints.
No subspecies of the Fawn-breasted Brilliant are recognized. It forms a superspecies with Humboldt’s Brilliant and the Black-throated Brilliant. Some taxonomists previously considered all three species conspecific, but they are now recognized as separate based on differences in plumage, vocalizations and genetics. Within its genus, the Fawn-breasted Brilliant’s closest relative is thought to be the Glowing Puffleg.
– Family: Trochilidae
– Genus: Heliodoxa
– Species: H. rubinoides
– Wingspan: 5.1 – 5.9 cm (2.0 – 2.3 in)
– Weight: 5 – 8 g (0.2 – 0.3 oz)
– Diet: Nectar, insects
– Range: Central America and western South America
– Habitat: Tropical lowland forest
– IUCN Status: Least Concern
In summary, the handsome Fawn-breasted Brilliant is a widespread and adaptable neotropical hummingbird. While not considered threatened, habitat loss in its range is a long-term concern for conservation. Maintaining intact forest ecosystems will be key to preserving vibrant populations of this and other tropical hummingbird species.