The Green-breasted mountaingem (Lampornis sybillae) is a medium-sized hummingbird found in the Andes Mountains of South America. With its vibrant green chest and throat coupled with an iridescent purple-blue crown, this species is aptly named for its jewel-toned plumage.
The Green-breasted mountaingem is one of over 300 different hummingbird species found globally. Hummingbirds are unique among birds for their ability to hover in midair and fly backwards and upside down. Their wings beat up to 80 times per second, making them true aviators of the avian world. The Green-breasted mountaingem is a member of the mountain gem genus Lampornis, consisting of about 13 similar medium-sized hummingbirds inhabiting mountainous regions of Mexico, Central America, and the Andes.
The Green-breasted mountaingem measures between 9-10 centimeters in length and weighs around 6-8 grams. The males sport vibrant emerald green feathers covering their throat and chest. Their crowns gleam with an iridescent purple-blue plumage. The upperparts and wings are mostly golden brown or olive in color. The outer tail feathers are rufous-toned. Females look similar but their plumage is slightly duller overall. The vibrant emerald and purple iridescence on the males’ feathers are produced not by pigments, but through optical interference of microscopically structured feathers. By structuring feathers at a microscopic level, alternating layers of keratin and air can reinforce and cancel out select wavelengths of light, producing this shimmery iridescent effect.
Distribution and Habitat
The Green-breasted mountaingem is found along the Andes Mountains in Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia. It occupies altitudes between 2900-4300 meters, inhabiting forests and woodlands in high montane regions. In Ecuador, it can be found in particular abundance within the dense foliage along the bases of the Antisana and Pichincha volcanoes. The species favors habitats near streams and meadows rich in nectar-producing flowers.
Like all hummingbirds, the Green-breasted mountaingem sustains itself primarily on sugary nectar from flowering plants. Its long, slender bill and extendable tongue are perfectly adapted for accessing nectar at the heart of tubular blossoms. The curvatures of the bill match the contours of the flowers from which the bird prefers to feed. These floral adaptations allow efficient nectar extraction. While feeding mainly on nectar, the Green-breasted mountaingem also consumes small insects for essential proteins and nutrients. It utilizes its aerial agility to forage and hunt insects in flight.
Breeding and Nesting
The breeding season for Green-breasted mountaingems occurs between March and August. As with other hummingbirds, intricate courtship displays precede mating. Males will climb up to 130 feet in the air before diving down at high speeds past the female. This flying dance advertises the male’s strong flight abilities. After mating, the female alone builds a delicate cup-shaped nest out of plant down and spider webs on a high tree branch. The eggs are tiny, averaging only 0.5 inches long. She incubates the 2 eggs for about 16-19 days. The chicks are born helpless, with closed eyes and few feathers. They develop quickly though, ready for their first flight at just 3 weeks old. The female alone provides care and feeding for the chicks.
Most hummingbirds migrate seasonally to adjust to flower and food availability. The Green-breasted mountaingem is unusual among hummingbirds in that it does not make seasonal migrations. Instead, it remains resident year-round in its Andean mountain habitat. It can tolerate colder temperatures by entering torpor – a state of decreased physiological activity – at night to conserve energy. It selects good nesting sites with protection from the elements. This adaptation allows the species to survive the harsher winter months in the mountains.
Threats and Conservation Status
Habitat loss from human activities poses the largest threat currently to the Green-breasted mountaingem. High altitude forests are being logged or cleared for mining, agriculture, and development. Climate change also threatens to alter the flowering plants and ecosystem on which the species relies. Due to declining population trends, the IUCN Red List categorizes the Green-breasted mountaingem as Near Threatened. Conservation priorities include habitat preservation and monitoring for population declines. Ecotourism may potentially aid conservation efforts by incentivizing habitat protection. Responsible birdwatching tourism generates income for local communities, provided the health and nesting areas of the birds are not disturbed.
– The genus name Lampornis comes from the Greek lampein meaning “to shine”, referring to the males’ brilliant iridescent plumage.
– The Green-breasted mountaingem’s extremely rapid metabolism requires it to consume more than half its body weight in nectar each day! Over a thousand flower visits may occur in a single day.
– Hummingbirds are the only birds that can fly backwards. They owe this unique ability to their flexible shoulder joints that permit inverted flight.
– To conserve energy at night when temperatures drop, the Green-breasted mountaingem enters a hibernation-like state called torpor where its metabolic rate slows down. Breathing, heart rate and body temperature all decrease.
– The indigenous Quechua people of the Andes consider hummingbirds sacred. They call the hummingbird “Q’enti” and see it as a symbol of energy and joy.
The dazzling emerald and sapphire plumage of the Green-breasted mountaingem gives it a sparkling, jewel-like quality fitting of its descriptive name. While small in stature, hummingbirds like the Green-breasted mountaingem are true avian wonders. Their adaptations for sustained hovering flight, nimble aerial maneuvering, and nectar feeding are unparalleled in the avian world. As human activities continue to threaten Andean ecosystems, conservation measures aimed at protecting hummingbird habitats will be crucial for preserving these captivating creatures for future generations. The Green-breasted mountaingem serves as an important indicator species and a beautiful ambassador for the fragile yet biodiverse ecosystems it inhabits along the slopes of the Andes.