The hyacinth visorbearer (Augastes lumachellus) is a medium-sized hummingbird found in the northern regions of South America. With its iridescent blue-green plumage and distinctive curled tail feathers, the hyacinth visorbearer is considered one of the most beautiful hummingbird species.
The hyacinth visorbearer has an average body length of 11-12 cm and weighs around 8-10 grams. The male has bright turquoise upperparts and belly, with a metallic purple throat, black bill, and white patches behind the eyes. The tail is strongly forked, with elongated curled outer tail feathers that can measure up to 10 cm in the male. Females are similar but less vibrantly colored, with greenish upperparts, grey underparts, and shorter tail streamers.
Both sexes have a visor-like fringe of short feathers on the forehead, which can be raised and lowered. The function of this unique “visor” is not definitively known, but it may play a role in interspecies recognition or courtship displays. The hyacinth visorbearer’s wings are fairly short and rounded, beating up to 70 times per second in flight. This rapid wingbeat generates the signature humming sound.
Distribution and Habitat
The hyacinth visorbearer is found across northern South America in Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname, and far northern Brazil. Its natural habitats are humid lowland forests, forest edges, second growth, plantations, and gardens from sea level up to 1200 m elevation.
This species seems to prefer more open areas and disturbed forest rather than dense primary rainforest. It has readily adapted to artificial feeders and flowering gardens in rural areas, but avoids heavily urbanized zones. Population densities peak at lower elevations.
Like all hummingbirds, the hyacinth visorbearer subsists primarily on nectar taken from a variety of brightly colored tropical flowers such as Heliconia, Costus, ginger lilies, and banana relatives. It favors flowers with sturdy petals that can support its weight. It uses its specialized long bill and extendable tongue to lap up nectar while hovering in front of the flower.
The hyacinth visorbearer supplements its diet with small insects including spiders, beetles, and flies. It often catches insects on the wing or gleans them from foliage. A sucrose-rich floral nectar diet provides quick energy, while insects offer additional protein.
Behavior and Breeding
The hyacinth visorbearer is solitary and territorial. Males establish small territories with plentiful flowers during the breeding season and sing to advertise their territory while perched. They perform elaborate aerial displays to impress females and chase intruders. Sometimes skirmishes erupt between competing males. Females move freely in and out of the male territories.
Courtship consists of the male flying in vertical u-shaped patterns above the female. Once paired, the female builds a small cup nest out of plant fibers, feathers, and spider webs on a low horizontal branch or tree fern. She lays two tiny white eggs and incubates them alone for about 16-19 days. The chicks hatch with closed eyes and almost no feathers. They are fed regurgitated insects and nectar by the female and fledge in 22-26 days.
The hyacinth visorbearer is currently classified as Least Concern by the IUCN. Its population trend appears stable and it has a wide distribution across northern South America. While it faces some pressures from habitat loss and fragmentation, its ability to thrive around human settlements enhances its long-term prospects. Targeted conservation efforts are not deemed necessary for the species at this time.
Relationship to Humans
The spectacular hyacinth visorbearer is a sought-after species for ecotourists and birdwatchers visiting northern South America. It is easily drawn to feeders and flowering gardens, providing easy viewing opportunities. This approachable nature has made it a flagship bird for promoting hummingbird conservation in the region. Its image is used by parks, reserves, and environmental programs to represent the wonder of the neotropical hummingbird family.
This species also faces some threats from the pet trade, although international commercial trade is banned. Illegal capture of wild hummingbirds for the domestic and international pet markets can negatively impact local populations. Outreach campaigns by conservation groups aim to highlight the importance of keeping these wild birds in the forest where they belong.
While not globally threatened, localized habitat loss in certain areas puts pressure on hyacinth visorbearer populations. Ranching, plantations, mining, and urbanization can degrade or destroy the forests this species inhabits. Preserving intact forest corridors and mosaic habitats benefits this and other hummingbird species dependent on specialized niches.
– The male hyacinth visorbearer’s long tail feathers necessitate unique adaptations while flying. The tail tips have fewer feathers and uneven stiffness that lets the streamers twist and bend with air currents.
– The curled tail shape likely evolved to produce a “whirring” sound during the male’s courtship dive displays. The sound is thought to attract female attention.
– The common name “hyacinth” refers to the species’ bright blue plumage, reminiscent of the color of hyacinth flowers. Visorbearer describes the unique head feathers.
– To conserve energy, hyacinth visorbearers and other hummingbirds go into a nightly state of torpor where their metabolic rate slows. Their body temperature drops and heart rate slows to conserve energy.
– Relative to its small body size, the hyacinth visorbearer has an extremely rapid metabolism. Hummingbirds have the highest metabolism per unit weight of any warm blooded animal.
– Like all hummingbirds, the hyacinth visorbearer can fly forwards, backwards, sideways, up and down with great agility. They are the only birds able to hover in still air. Their specialized shoulder joints allow the necessary wing rotation.
– Hummingbird tongues have tiny hair-like structures called lamellae that lap up nectar. When retracted, the tongue coils up inside the bill.
– To get necessary protein from insects, hummingbirds sometimes steal them from spider webs and also hawk flying insects. Their vision and flight allow them to catch small insects on the wing.
In summary, the vibrant hyacinth visorbearer is a charismatic hummingbird species endemic to northern South America. Despite some localized threats, it remains relatively abundant across its range and has adapted well to human presence. This approachable bird serves as an iconic symbol of hummingbird diversity. Ongoing habitat conservation and reduced trade pressures will help ensure the hyacinth visorbearer continues to thrive and fascinate bird enthusiasts across its native landscape.