The Grey-tailed Mountaingem Hummingbird (Lampornis cinereicauda) is a small hummingbird found in montane forests and scrublands of the Andes mountains in South America. With its glittering green throat, blue-grey tail and burnt orange underparts, this species is one of the most colorful and eye-catching hummingbirds in its range.
The Grey-tailed Mountaingem Hummingbird measures between 10-12 cm in length and weighs around 5-8 grams. The male has glittering emerald green plumage on its throat, chest and upperparts. The lower breast and belly are burnt orange in color. The most distinctive feature is the long blue-grey tail which extends far beyond the body. The female is less brightly colored, with green upperparts, grey underparts and a short grey tail with white tips. The long bill of both sexes is straight and black.
Geographic Range and Habitat
This hummingbird species is found along the Andes mountains from Venezuela to Bolivia. Its habitat consists of montane forests, woodlands, scrublands and other open areas between elevations of 1800-4000 meters. It occurs in both humid forest environments as well as relatively dry inter-Andean valleys. Within its elevational range, the Grey-tailed Mountaingem can be found feeding from flowering plants in grasslands, near forest edges, and along scrubby roadsides and trails.
Like all hummingbirds, the Grey-tailed Mountaingem feeds on nectar from blooming flowers and tubular plants. It uses its specialized long bill and tongue to drink nectar while hovering in front of flowers. Some of the preferred food plants include species from the genera Bomarea, Fuchsia, Abutilon, Erythrina, and Salvia. The hummingbird also catches small insects in flight to obtain proteins and minerals. It can hawk flying insects, often perching to capture them from an open perch.
Several unique anatomical and physiological adaptations allow the Grey-tailed Mountaingem to thrive in the relatively cold and low-oxygen environments of the high Andes mountains. Its high metabolism, fast breathing and heart rate provide energy to power sustained hovering flight including at high elevations with thin air. Dense plumage and a reduced number of capillaries in the skin help retain body heat in cold mountain conditions. The wings are shaped to produce lift on both the upstroke and downstroke, improving hovering capability in the thin mountain air. The long tail provides stability and maneuverability in flight. Since many flowers do not bloom year-round at high elevations, this hummingbird is migratory, moving to lower elevations during part of the year.
Reproduction and Life Cycle
The breeding season for the Grey-tailed Mountaingem occurs between February to June. The male performs elaborate courtship displays, flying in u-shaped patterns to impress females. Nests are tiny cups built by the female, attached to drooping branches or vines. She lays 2 tiny white eggs, which she incubates for about 16-19 days. The chicks hatch with closed eyes and little to no feathers. They develop quickly on a diet of regurgitated nectar and insects provided by the female. They fledge at around 20-26 days old.
Threats and Conservation
While still relatively common, the Grey-tailed Mountaingem faces threats from habitat loss and degradation. Logging, agricultural expansion, urbanization and mining activities have caused declines in mountain forests across the Andes. Climate change may also affect flowering cycles and nectar availability. Parts of its range are protected in national parks and reserves. Maintaining connectivity of montane habitats will be important for the long-term survival of this and other high elevation species.
– The Grey-tailed Mountaingem is able to beat its wings up to 70 times per second during courtship displays. This produces a distinctive buzzing, insect-like sound.
– To conserve energy on cold nights, this hummingbird enters a state of torpor, lowering its metabolic rate and body temperature significantly.
– The Andean Mountains contain over 100 different hummingbird species, the greatest diversity on earth. Many Andean cultures have traditional legends about hummingbirds.
– Male Grey-tailed Mountaingems are highly territorial. They perform dramatic dive displays to drive intruders away from their preferred nectar-rich flowering plants.
– The Grey-tailed Mountaingem’s tiny nest measures only about 5 cm across and 2 cm high. It is camouflaged with lichens on the outside surface.
– At high elevations, this species feeds on flowers of the Puya plant. Puya flowers only bloom once in the plant’s lifetime, after up to 100 years of growth.
In summary, the colorful and energetic Grey-tailed Mountaingem Hummingbird is a fascinating resident of the high Andes mountains. Despite living in cold conditions and thin air, it has adapted with specialized physiology and behaviors to thrive. While still relatively abundant, habitat protection in its montane environments will be needed to ensure the long-term survival of this and related hummingbird species. With its glittering colors and aerial displays, the Grey-tailed Mountaingem remains one of the most spectacular hummingbirds found anywhere in the world.