The Reddish Hermit (Phaethornis ruber) is a species of hummingbird found in tropical South America. With a total body length of only 7.5-8.5 cm (3-3.3 in) and a weight of 3-3.5 g (0.1-0.12 oz), it is a relatively small member of the hermit subfamily (Phaethornithinae). This species has glossy green upperparts, whitish underparts with variable reddish-brown streaking, and a long, slightly decurved red bill. The male has an orange-rufous throat and a flattened, squared-off tail, while the female has a white-buff throat with fine dusky streaks and a rounded tail with white tips on the outer tail feathers.
The Reddish Hermit inhabits humid lowland and foothill forests from sea level to 1500 m elevation. Its range extends from eastern Panama through northwestern Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela. It occurs in a wide variety of wooded habitats including primary and secondary rainforests, forest edges, second growth woodland, plantations and gardens. The Reddish Hermit often joins mixed-species feeding flocks, associating with other small insectivorous birds.
This hermit is one of the more territorial hummingbird species. The male defends a territory averaging 2500 square meters in optimal habitat, though territory size varies depending on habitat quality and population density. Territories contain one or more favorite perches located high in the forest canopy which are used for singing, resting and hunting forays. Territory defense is aggressive, with intruders chased and dive-bombed relentlessly. Most agonistic encounters are with other male Reddish Hermits, though conflicts also occur with slightly larger hermit species like the Straight-billed Hermit (Phaethornis bourcieri).
The Reddish Hermit, like other hermits, traplines between flowering and feeding sites along regular circuits. Its long, specialized bill allows it to probe into flowers with corollas too long for the bills of other hummingbirds. A diverse array of plants are visited, though Heliconia flowers are a preferred nectar source where available. The hermit uses its bill to steal nectar from the base of the long Heliconia flowers. In addition to nectar, it takes any small insects and spiders encountered while foraging. Aerial insects like flies and gnats are captured in flight, often with a characteristic hover-gleaning behavior.
This species does not undertake long seasonal migrations, but local movements in response to flowering and nesting periods are typical. Males are present on breeding territories throughout the year in optimal habitat, but may temporarily disperse during the peak of the rainy season when flowers are less available. Females appear to undertake longer dispersal movements between breeding attempts.
The nesting season generally corresponds to the dry season when flowers and insect prey are abundant. The tiny cup nest is constructed on a horizontal fork or branch, attached using cobwebs and lichen. Nest height ranges from 2-15 m above ground. Typical clutch size is two white eggs which are incubated by the female for 15-19 days. The chicks are fed by regurgitation and fledge at 22-26 days old. Parental care is solely by the female.
Major threats to the Reddish Hermit include widespread deforestation and habitat fragmentation throughout its range. It does adapt to disturbed and urban areas better than most other hermit species, but remains relatively uncommon in altered habitats. Conservation efforts focusing on habitat protection and connectivity will benefit this and other neotropical hummingbird species. Though not currently considered threatened, it merits continued monitoring due to its specialized ecological needs and apparently declining populations in parts of its range.