The Gorgeted Woodstar (Chaetocercus heliodor) is a small hummingbird found in South America. With an average body length of only 5-6 cm and weight of 2-3 grams, it is one of the smallest hummingbird species in the world. Despite its tiny size, the Gorgeted Woodstar exhibits remarkable adaptations that allow it to survive and thrive in its tropical forest habitat.
Description and Identification
The Gorgeted Woodstar has vibrant, iridescent plumage in shimmering greens and blues. The male has a brilliant turquoise-green crown and throat, with a striking purple gorget (collar) on its lower throat. The upperparts and wings are bronzy-green, while the underparts are white with green spotting on the sides. The deeply forked tail is blue-black on top and white on the underside. Females are similar but less vibrantly colored, with a pale gray throat and smaller gorget.
The species gets its name from the beautiful glowing patch on the male’s throat. “Gorget” refers to a piece of armor worn around the throat for protection. This iridescent bib shining like a jeweled brooch serves to attract females during mating displays.
Range and Habitat
The Gorgeted Woodstar is found along the Pacific slopes of the Andes Mountains in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. Its habitat consists of tropical forests, woodlands, second growth, scrub and gardens at elevations between 500-1800 meters. It occurs in both wet and dry forest types.
This species prefers open areas and forest edges with plenty of flowering plants. It is a low to middle-level forager, feeding on nectar from flowers such as fuchsia, mint-sage, and trumpet vines. It also hawks small insects in flight.
The Gorgeted Woodstar has specialized adaptations for nectar-feeding. Its long, slender bill allows it to probe deep into flowers. The bill tip is flexible and can open wider than the base, enabling the bird to access nectar that other animals can’t.
Its tongue is also uniquely adapted. When extended, the tubular tongue splits into two long, fringed tips which soak up nectar. Energy demands are high for these tiny birds, so they must visiting hundreds of flowers daily to consume up to double their weight in nectar.
Another key adaptation is hovering flight. The Gorgeted Woodstar can beat its wings up to 70 times per second, allowing it to stop in mid-air while feeding. This hovering ability gives it exclusive access to certain flowers. The shape of its wings generates the ideal lift for hovering, while also allowing great speed and agility in flight.
Reproduction and Lifespan
The breeding season for Gorgeted Woodstars coincides with peak flower blooming during the rainy season, typically October to April. Males perform elaborate courtship displays, flying back and forth to attract the attention of females.
The nest is a small cup constructed of plant down and spider webs, attached to a downward-hanging branch or vine. The female lays just two tiny white eggs. She incubates them alone for 14-19 days before they hatch. The chicks fledge in about 20-26 days.
Lifespan in the wild is estimated at 5 years for Gorgeted Woodstars. Their high-energy lifestyle and small size means they have a fast metabolism and are vulnerable to starvation during periods of scarcity. Access to plentiful flower nectar is critical for their survival.
Threats and Conservation
While still relatively common, the Gorgeted Woodstar faces threats from habitat loss in parts of its range. Destruction of forest for agriculture, grazing and development has reduced flower availability and nesting sites. Climate change and drought may also impact food supplies.
Part of the species’ range is protected within national parks and reserves. Further conservation initiatives focusing on preserving intact forest habitat and flowering plants would benefit the Gorgeted Woodstar. Creating gardens with suitable nectar flowers near forested areas can also aid conservation of these specialized nectar-feeding birds.
The vibrant beauty and remarkable adaptations of the Gorgeted Woodstar make them fascinating hummingbirds to study and observe. Protecting their fragile forest habitat will give us the chance to continue appreciating these tiny, energetic jewels of South America. Though small, the Gorgeted Woodstar plays an important role in pollination of local plants and adds a magical flair of life to Andean cloud forests.