The hooded visorbearer hummingbirds are a group of small, fast-flying birds found in Central and South America. There are around 13 recognized species in the genus Augastes, all of which are characterized by elongated bills and vibrant, iridescent plumage.
Hooded visorbearers get their name from the feathered “hoods” or crests on the tops of the males’ heads. These can be raised and lowered as part of courtship displays. The hoods come in a rainbow of colors depending on the exact species, including fiery red, bright yellow, vivid green, deep purple, and jet black. Even the female and juvenile plumage is decorated with spots, streaks, or scaled patterns on the throat and chest.
In body size, these hummingbirds are quite small, with lengths ranging from 2.5 inches up to 5 inches maximum. Their long, slender bills make up over half that length at 1.5 to 2.5 inches. Weight ranges between 2-4 grams on average. The wings of hooded visorbearers beat approximately 70 times per second, allowing them to hover in place or fly backwards as they feed on nectar from flowers. Their metabolic rates are extremely high.
Habitat and Range
Hooded visorbearers inhabit tropical forests, woodlands, and scrublands from Mexico down to Bolivia and Brazil in South America. Most species reside in mountainous regions at elevations between 2500-6500 ft, where they prefer wet montane forest and cloud forest environments. A few can be found in drier areas or at lower elevations in the foothills. Their ranges overlap in Central America, but they speciated separately in certain regions of South America.
Behavior and Diet
These hummingbirds feed mainly on nectar from flowers using their elongated, specialized bills. Favorite flowers include those in the Heliconia family with long, curved tubes perfect for accessing the nectar within. Hooded visorbearers use their bills to reach nectar that other animals cannot. They also consume small insects for essential proteins.
The males are highly territorial and defend their flower and bush territories aggressively against other males or even larger intruders. They perform elaborate courtship displays, utilizing their colorful hoods and specialized tail feathers to attract females. Most hooded visorbearer species are solitary outside of breeding season. They build tiny cup-shaped nests out of plant materials, spiderwebs, and lichen on branches away from main trunks. The female alone builds the nest and cares for the 2 eggs.
Common Hooded Visorbearer Species
– Long-billed Starthroat (Heliomaster longirostris) – One of the larger hooded visorbearer species at 5 inches long, found from Mexico to Costa Rica. The male has an iridescent green hood and red feet.
– Bronzy Inca (Coeligena coeligena) – A mid-sized species with a brilliant bronzy-orange hood found in the Andes Mountains. It has a bright white tailband.
– Green-crowned Plovercrest (Stephanoxis lalandi) – A vivid green hood with a white forecrown distinguishes this smaller species, ranging from Panama to Bolivia.
– Violet-capped Hummingbird (Colibri coruscans) – Medium-sized with a deep violet hood and black scales on the throat. It occurs from Costa Rica to Peru.
– Black-eared Fairy (Heliothryx auritus) – A widespread, tiny species with black ear tufts and a shimmering turquoise-purple hood found from Mexico to Bolivia.
– Buff-tailed Sicklebill (Eutoxeres condamini) – One of the larger and more unusual visorbearers with a massively decurved bill. The male has a buffy-cinnamon colored hood and tail. It is found in a small region of South America.
Most hooded visorbearer hummingbird species are still relatively common in Central and South America and are classified as Least Concern by the IUCN. However, some species with small ranges like the buff-tailed sicklebill face habitat loss. Preservation of tropical forests and scrublands is important for maintaining their populations. Providing gardens with suitable flowers may help supplement their food resources and connectivity between protected areas. With conservation efforts, these beautiful and unique hummingbirds will continue gracing the mountain forests of the Americas.