Long-tailed Hermit Hummingbird Species

The long-tailed hermit hummingbird (Phaethornis superciliosus) is a fascinating species of hummingbird found in Central and South America. With its extremely long tail feathers and striking plumage, this medium-sized hummingbird stands out among its relatives. In this comprehensive article, we will explore the long-tailed hermit hummingbird’s appearance, habitat, diet, behavior, breeding, conservation status, and unique adaptations that enable its specialized lifestyle.

Physical Description

The most noticeable feature of the long-tailed hermit is its very long, graduated tail feathers, which can reach up to 20 cm in the males. The tail makes up over half of the bird’s total length of 23-26 cm. The bill of the long-tailed hermit is slightly decurved and around 2 cm long.

Plumage differs between the sexes. Males have a metallic green crown and throat, with a grey-white forehead. The upperparts are metallic bronze-green, while the underparts are greyish white with green sides. The long central tail feathers are russet-brown with white tips. Females lack the ornamental tail feathers and are generally less vibrantly colored, with more grey-brown plumage. Juveniles resemble adult females.

Habitat and Distribution

The long-tailed hermit is found from Mexico south to Bolivia and Brazil. Its habitats include tropical and subtropical forests, woodlands, plantations, and gardens. This species occurs mainly at lower elevations up to 1200 m, but has been recorded as high as 2500 m in some areas.

Long-tailed hermits often inhabit forest edges and second growth forests. They are also regular visitors to gardens and agricultural areas where flowering plants provide nectar. Their range overlaps with several other hermit hummingbird species, though the long-tailed occupies more open and disturbed areas than most of its relatives.

Diet and Feeding

Like all hummingbirds, the long-tailed hermit feeds on nectar from flowers. Its main food plants include species from the Rubiaceae, Heliconiaceae, and Acanthaceae families. The long decurved bill allows the bird to access nectar from curved or waxy flowers. To obtain enough nutrition, the long-tailed hermit visits hundreds of flowers each day.

The bird plays an important role as a pollinator for many plant species. As it feeds, pollen attaches to its head and bill, allowing it to transfer pollen between blossoms.

In addition to nectar, the long-tailed hermit supplements its diet with small insects and spiders caught on the wing or gleaned from foliage. The extra protein boosts energy and nutrients.

Behavior and Flight

The long-tailed hermit is often seen alone or in pairs, vigorously patrolling its feeding territory. Males will chase each other in fast flying aerial attacks if defending areas overlap. Though aggressive to other males, they are tolerant of females in their territory.

In flight, the long tail streamers and short wings give the bird a unique appearance. The hermit has rapid wing beats estimated at 80 per second! This enables hovering and sudden changes in direction as it collects nectar and insects. The male’s tail feathers produce a faint buzzing sound in flight.

The hermit spends the night roosting upright on a small perch with its tail folded vertically up its back. This protects the delicate feathers from damage.

Breeding and Nesting

In Central America, breeding occurs from March to June during the dry season. The male long-tailed hermit establishes and defends a breeding territory up to 2500 square meters in size. Within this area, he displays for females with aerial flights and by fanning his colorful tail.

Once paired, the female builds a small cup nest on a low horizontal branch, often over water. She uses soft plant down bound with spider silk and decorates the exterior with lichen and moss for camouflage.

The female lays just two tiny white eggs. She incubates them alone for 15-19 days. Once hatched, both parents feed the chicks with small insects. After 20-26 days, the chicks fledge and soon leave the parent’s territory. In captivity, long-tailed hermits have lived up to 14 years, but lifespan in the wild is likely much shorter.

Adaptations and Unique Traits

The long-tailed hermit possesses several physical and behavioral adaptations related to its lifestyle and feeding strategies. Here are some of its most fascinating and unique traits:

– Extremely long central tail feathers likely evolved to facilitate sudden aerial maneuvers required when feeding at flowers and catching small prey. Males can better display the elongated feathers during courtship.

– A slim, decurved bill allows the bird to probe into curved flowers not accessible to other hummingbird species. This reduces competition for certain nectar sources.

– A rapid wingbeat of over 80 beats per second powers the hermit’s specialized flight abilities including hummingbird aerial dogfights!

– Hermits enter a nightly state of torpor, lowering their metabolic rate and body temperature to conserve energy. This adaption allows survival on limited resources.

– Highly territorial behavior and specific vocalizations help males defend prime habitat and attract mates.

– Association with Heliconia plants provides reliable nectar and coevolved pollination relationships.

Conservation Status

The long-tailed hermit is evaluated as a species of Least Concern by the IUCN. It has a relatively large range and stable population trend. No major threats to the species overall have been identified. While some local habitat loss occurs through deforestation, the hermit’s ability to use disturbed areas allows it to adapt better than other hummingbirds. As long as sufficient flowers and nesting sites remain, this unique hummingbird should continue brightening Neotropical forests with its glittering plumage.

In Summary

With its flashy feathers adapted for display and energetic flight specialized for nectar-feeding, the long-tailed hermit hummingbird has evolved to make the most of tropical forest resources. Striking and charismatic, these hummers bring sparkling life and vital pollination services to the ecosystems they inhabit. By understanding the natural history of species like the long-tailed hermit, we can better appreciate the diversity of avian adaptations and the importance of conservation in the face of continued habitat loss across Central and South America.