The Magenta-throated Woodstar (Calliphlox bryantae) is a tiny hummingbird found in the Andean regions of South America. With an average body length of only 7-8 cm and weighing just 2-3 grams, it is one of the smallest hummingbird species in the world. This diminutive bird gets its name from the iridescent magenta gorget (throat feathers) found on the adult male. The female lacks this colorful gorget and is more drably colored.
Range and Habitat
The Magenta-throated woodstar has a highly localized range in northwestern Venezuela and adjacent parts of Colombia. Its habitat is cloud forest and elfin forest at elevations between 1800-3000 meters. These humid montane forests are characterized by abundant mosses, bromeliads, and other epiphytes growing on the trees. This challenging mountainous environment provides the backdrop for the unique adaptations of this tiny hummingbird.
The Magenta-throated woodstar has several remarkable adaptations that allow it to thrive in its cold, wet, mountainous habitat. One is its ability to enter torpor – a temporary state of decreased physiological activity characterized by lower body temperature, heart rate, and metabolism. This allows the bird to conserve energy on cold nights when food is scarce.
Another adaptation is the unique club-like shape of its bill. The bill is short but wide at the tip, which is thought to provide more efficient heat exchange. This may help regulate the bird’s temperature and prevent heat loss in the cold environs of the cloud forest.
The short wings of the Magenta-throated woodstar allow great maneuverability and hovering capability, which is essential for accessing the nectar of epiphytic plants and flowers. The intricately branched and twisting limbs of elfin forests pose no obstacle for this agile species.
Finally, the Magenta-throated woodstar has very fine, hair-like feathering on its belly. This “powder down” provides excellent insulation from wet and cold conditions while adding minimal weight.
Like all hummingbirds, the Magenta-throated woodstar has a high metabolism and must feed frequently to fuel its energetic lifestyle. Every day it consumes more than half its body weight in nectar and insects.
Its primary food source is nectar from colorful montane flowers such as those from the genera Bomarea, Besleria, and Fuchsia. It uses its specialized tubular tongue to lap up the sweet nectar. The bird also forages on small insects such as gnats, aphids, and spiders to obtain proteins, fats, and minerals missing from its nectar-heavy diet.
Reproduction and Life Cycle
The breeding season for the Magenta-throated woodstar coincides with the rainy season from April to August. Males perform elaborate courtship flights to impress females, zooming back and forth while making buzzing sounds with their wings. Once paired, the female constructs a delicate cup-shaped nest out of mosses, lichens, and plant fibers, binding it to a vertical twig or fern frond.
She lays just two tiny white eggs in the nest. The female alone incubates the eggs for 15-19 days. Once hatched, the nestlings are fed regurgitated food by both parents and fledge at 22-26 days old. The Magenta-throated woodstar has an average lifespan of 5 years.
The Magenta-throated woodstar has a very small global population estimated at just 2500-10000 mature individuals. Its population is declining due to habitat loss from deforestation, cattle grazing, agricultural clearing, and climate change. For these reasons, the species is classified as Endangered on the IUCN Red List.
Major efforts are underway to protect remaining cloud forest habitat across the bird’s range. Ecotourism focused on observing these special hummingbirds also provides an incentive to preserve habitat. But more conservation action is urgently needed to ensure the future of this unique high-elevation jewel of South America. With its glittering violet bib, Energetic streaking flight, and perseverance in a harsh mountain home, the Magenta-throated woodstar serves as a symbol of fragile beauty and resilience.