The Lesser Violetear (Colibri cyanotus) is a small hummingbird found in Central and South America. With an average body length of 9-10 cm and weight of 5-7 grams, it is one of the smaller hummingbird species. Its name comes from the violet ear patch found on the males.
The Lesser Violetear has predominantly green plumage on its back and crown, with a bright blue throat, chest, and belly. The male has vivid violet ear patches which gives the species its name. The female is similar but lacks the colorful throat patch and has whitish tips on the tail feathers. The straight black bill is an adaptation for feeding on nectar from flowers.
The Lesser Violetear exhibits sexual dimorphism where the males are more brightly colored than the females. This is common among hummingbird species and relates to behaviors around mating. The bright colors help the males stand out and attract mates. Females on the other hand need more camouflaged plumage to blend into surroundings while incubating eggs and raising young.
Range and Habitat
The Lesser Violetear has a wide range across Central America from southern Mexico down through Panama. Its range extends south along the Andes mountains into Bolivia, Paraguay, and northern Argentina in South America.
This species inhabits tropical forests, woodlands, plantations, and gardens. It is often found in forest edges, clearings, and open areas where it can more easily fly between flowers. The Lesser Violetear occurs mainly at lower elevations up to 1500 m, but has been recorded as high as 3000 m in some parts of its range.
Like all hummingbirds, the Lesser Violetear feeds on nectar from flowering plants. Its bill and tongue are specially adapted for extracting nectar. The bill is long and slim which allows it to reach into different shaped flowers. The tongue hasforked tips which capillary action to lap up nectar.
Some favorite nectar sources are plants in the Heliconia genus with long tubular flowers. The Lesser Violetear prefers red and orange tubular flowers, an indication of the types of colors it can best see. Along with nectar, the Lesser Violetear will eat small insects which are an important source of protein. Aerial flycatching is used to capture insects in flight.
Behavior and Breeding
The Lesser Violetear is solitary for most of the year, but forms breeding pairs during the mating season. Courtship displays include aerial flights by the males to show off their bright plumage.
Females build a small cup-shaped nest out of plant fibers and spider webs on a tree branch. Two white eggs are laid and incubated by the female for 14-19 days. The chicks hatch with closed eyes and little to no feathers. They develop quickly and are able to leave the nest in 18-26 days. The female cares for and feeds the chicks until fledging.
The Lesser Violetear has a wide range and large overall population. Its population trend appears to be stable and it is not currently considered threatened. However, habitat loss in some regions from deforestation is a concern. The species is evaluated as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Protecting tropical forest habitats will be important for the continued survival of the Lesser Violetear.
– The genus name Colibri comes from a Carib Indian word for hummingbirds. Cyanotus refers to the blue coloration.
– Like most hummingbirds, the Lesser Violetear has unique leg and toe adaptations that allow it to perch at unusual angles. Long toes and short legs let it get nectar from flowers in acrobatic positions.
– Hummingbirds have very fast metabolisms. The Lesser Violetear’s heart rate can reach as high as 1,260 beats per minute while feeding.
– The Lesser Violetear’s wings can beat up to 70 times per second and they are able to fly backwards or hover in place.
– Many tropical plants depend on the Lesser Violetear for pollination as they feed on the nectar. Their heads and feathers get covered in pollen which then gets transferred to other blooms.
– The violet ear patches of the male may look black in low light conditions. In full sunlight, they scintillate a radiant violet.
– Like many other hummingbirds, the Lesser Violetear makes a sustained high-pitched squeaking vocalization. This is used in aggressive territorial displays.
– Lesser Violetears build nests only 2-5 meters above the ground. This is low compared to other hummingbirds which nest much higher up.
In summary, the diminutive Lesser Violetear may be small, but it is a feisty and energetic hummingbird species equipped with unique adaptations for feeding on nectar. Their beautiful colors and acrobatic flights make them a delight to observe in the wild. Protecting habitats across Central and South America will ensure the Lesser Violetear continues to play its vital role as pollinator in tropical ecosystem networks.