The long-billed hermit hummingbird (Phaethornis longirostris) is a species of hummingbird found in Central and South America. With its exceptionally long, decurved bill, this unique bird has adapted to feed on flowers with long corollas that other hummingbirds cannot access.
The long-billed hermit hummingbird measures around 11-13 cm in length and weighs 4-8 grams. As the name suggests, its most distinguishing feature is its very long, curved bill which measures around 4-6 cm for males and 3.5-5 cm for females. This allows the bird to access nectar from flowers with corollas measuring 7 cm or longer. The bill is black, slender and decurved.
The plumage of the long-billed hermit is mostly green above and white below. The male has a rufous throat and breast band, a blue tail, and green central tail feathers. The female is similar but lacks the colored throat and breast band, having just faint streaking on a white throat and breast. Both sexes have a small white postocular spot behind the eye.
Distribution and Habitat
The long-billed hermit hummingbird is found from Mexico through Central America to Bolivia, Brazil, Peru and the Guianas in South America. Its habitat includes tropical and subtropical moist lowland forests, plantations, gardens and savanna woodlands.
This species occurs at elevations up to 1600 meters in the foothills of the Andes Mountains. It is most common along forest edges and in semi-open areas where flowering plants preferred by the bird occur.
As its name denotes, the long-billed hermit hummingbird is adapted to feed on flowers with long, tubular corollas. Its specialized curved bill allows it to access nectar from blooms that are inaccessible to most other hummingbird species.
Some of the favorite food plants of P. longirostris include species in the Heliconia genus with long hanging inflorescences. The bird uses its bill like a pair of forceps to pry open the bracts of the Heliconia flower to reach the nectar at the base.
Other important nectar sources are plants in the Costus, Alpinia, Erythrina, Brownea, Centropogon, Drymonia and Gesneriaceae families, along with banana and palm inflorescences. The long bill enables the bird to delve deep inside these tubular blooms.
In addition to nectar, the long-billed hermit hummingbird supplements its diet by hawking small arthropods including insects and spiders. It often catches insects in flight but also gleans them from foliage using its bill.
Behavior and Nesting
The long-billed hermit hummingbird is usually seen alone or in pairs, perching on low exposed branches between feeding bouts. Despite its long bill, it is quite agile in flight. Males perform aerial courtship displays to attract females.
The breeding season varies geographically but occurs in the rainy season generally between May and August. The female builds a small cup nest out of plant down and fibers on a low horizontal branch or tree fork, laying two tiny white eggs. She incubates the eggs alone for 15-19 days.
Both parents feed the chicks with regurgitated food. The young fledge at approximately 20-26 days after hatching. Pairs may raise multiple broods in a season.
Status and Threats
A widespread and common species, the long-billed hermit hummingbird is evaluated as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. Its adaptations to specialized food plants help separate its niche from other hummingbirds.
Habitat loss and degradation pose threats through deforestation, agricultural expansion and other human activities. Climate change may also impact populations long-term if precipitation patterns or flowering cycles are disrupted. But overall the species remains secure due to its broad distribution and ability to utilize diverse habitats.
With its remarkably elongated, curved bill, the long-billed hermit hummingbird has evolved highly specialized adaptations to feed from tubular flowers that cannot be accessed by most other nectar-feeding birds. This specialization allows it to occupy its own unique ecological niche.
Other distinct adaptations of P. longirostris include:
– Bill structured like forceps to pry open bracts and corollas
– Short bristles at bill base to help extract nectar
– Long, specialized tongue with tubular tip to reach nectar
– Strong legs and feet to grip flowers while feeding
– Agile flight and swift movements between flowers
– High metabolism to power constant feeding
These physical and behavioral adaptations allow the long-billed hermit hummingbird to thrive on an exclusive nectar resource unavailable to shorter-billed hummingbird species. This reliance on specialized food plants shapes its distribution, habitat preferences, breeding strategies and conservation status across Central and South America.
With its remarkably long, curved bill, the aptly named long-billed hermit hummingbird has evolved to feed on tubular blooms inaccessible to most other nectar-feeding birds. This specialization allows the species to occupy its own unique ecological niche across the Neotropics. Despite some threats from habitat loss, the adaptable long-billed hermit remains a common and secure species from Mexico to South America due to its ability to utilize diverse habitats and food plants. Its specialized bill and feeding behaviors continue to enable its success in tropical flowering forests and gardens.