The long-billed starthroat (Heliomaster longirostris) is a medium-sized hummingbird found in tropical regions of Central and South America. With its long, curved bill and vibrant plumage, this species is one of the most recognizable and unique hummingbirds in the world.
The long-billed starthroat has a body length of about 7-8 cm and weighs around 5-6 grams. As the name suggests, it has an exceptionally long bill that curves slightly downward and measures around 2.5 cm in adult males. This elongated bill is an adaptation for obtaining nectar from flowers with long, curved corollas.
The plumage of the long-billed starthroat is striking. The male has a metallic green crown and nape, with a violet-blue throat patch (known as a gorget) that shines brightly in certain lights. The breast is grayish-white while the belly and undertail are cinnamon-rufous. The wings are blackish with a green sheen. The elongated central tail feathers of the male are rufous-tipped. Females lack the vibrant gorget and are more brownish-gray overall, with greenish wings and tail. Their bills are slightly shorter than the males.
Distribution and Habitat
The long-billed starthroat is found from southern Mexico south through Central America to Bolivia and central Brazil. Its habitat includes forest edges, second growth, plantations, and gardens from sea level up to elevations of 2500 m. This species seems to prefer semi-open areas with scattered trees and access to flowering plants. It is more common on the Caribbean slope than the Pacific slope in Central America.
Food and Feeding
Like all hummingbirds, the long-billed starthroat feeds on nectar from flowers and flowering trees. Its elongated bill allows it to access nectar from flowers with deep, curved corollas such as heliconias, gingers, and lobelias. The starthroat also hawks small insects in flight to obtain protein. It utilizes a variety of flowering plant species, including shrubs, vines, and epiphytes. Some favorite food plants include red ginger, lobster claw, cypress vine, and banana.
Behavior and Breeding
The long-billed starthroat is known for its aggressive behavior in defending nectar resources and display perches. Males will chase other males and even larger birds away. They are solitary birds that only interact with females briefly for mating.
Courtship displays by the male include hovering in front of the female and flying in an erratic, pendulum pattern. If receptive, the female will allow copulation. She alone builds the tiny cup nest out of plant down and spider webs, laying two white eggs. She incubates the eggs for 15-19 days until they hatch. The chicks are fed regurgitated food by the female and fledge in about 20-26 days.
The long-billed starthroat has a large range and is fairly common in most of its habitat. However, some Central American populations are threatened by deforestation and conversion of natural areas to agriculture. The species has declined in Costa Rica and other parts of its range. Globally it is still classified as a species of Least Concern by the IUCN Red List. More habitat protection and sustainable land practices will help ensure thriving populations of this unique hummingbird.
Several key adaptations allow the long-billed starthroat to survive and thrive:
– Elongated bill – Allows access to nectar from specialized long, curved flowers
– Iridescent gorget – Male’s colorful throat patch attracts females and defends territories
– Agility and speed in flight – Enables defense of resources and aerial pursuit of insects
– High metabolism – Very rapid heartbeat and metabolism powers energy-intensive lifestyle
– Migration – Some populations migrate to take advantage of seasonal flower patterns
– Small nests – Female builds tiny but durable cup nest to hold eggs and chicks
By studying unique birds like the long-billed starthroat, scientists gain insight into ecosystem relationships, evolutionary adaptations, and conservation needs. Protecting the habitats required by this and other specialized hummingbird species ensures biodiversity can flourish.
In summary, the long-billed starthroat hummingbird is a charismatic and vital part of tropical American ecosystems. Its distinctive features allow it to access specialized food resources and survive in threatened habitats. Conservation efforts focused on protection of tropical forests and flowering plants will give this unique pollinator a fighting chance in the future. With vibrant plumage and feisty behavior, the long-billed starthroat will hopefully continue dazzling birdwatchers and biologists for years to come.