The Santa Marta Woodstar (Chaetocercus astreans) is a species of hummingbird found exclusively in the Santa Marta mountains of Colombia. Measuring just 5-6 cm in length, it is one of the smallest hummingbird species in the world. The Santa Marta woodstar gets its name from its brilliant, sparkling plumage that shines like a woodstar.
The adult male Santa Marta woodstar has striking, iridescent turquoise upperparts that glitter in the sun. Its throat and breast are vivid purple, separated by a white band across the lower throat. The underparts are grey-white. The female is slightly duller overall, with greenish upperparts, greyer underparts, and less vivid purple on the throat. Both sexes have a straight black bill and white tips to the outer tail feathers.
The species is endemic to the Santa Marta mountains and ranges in elevation from 600 to 2500 m. Its tiny size allows it to hover and feed on small flowers and hovering to feed on small flowers inaccessible to larger hummingbirds.
The Santa Marta woodstar inhabits montane forest, elfin forest, and paramo vegetation within its narrow range. It occurs in both humid lower-elevation forests as well as drier high-elevation scrub. It has a strong preference for Ericaceous vegetation at treeline and in open scrub, regularly visiting flowers of the endemic Santa Marta Mountain whitestem (Espeletia grandiflora) and other Espeletia species.
The Santa Marta woodstar feeds on nectar from a variety of small flowers, including endemic Ericaceae, fuchsia, besleria, and passionflowers. It also hawks small insects in flight to meet its protein requirements. Its long, slender bill is perfectly adapted to retrieve nectar from long, tubular flowers.
The Santa Marta woodstar builds a petite cup nest on a vertical stem or rootlet, decorating the outside with lichens and moss for camouflage. The female lays just two tiny white eggs. She incubates them alone for 15-19 days until they hatch. The chicks are fed regurgitated food by the female and fledge after 20-26 days.
Status and Conservation
The Santa Marta woodstar has an extremely small global range, found only in the isolated Santa Marta mountains. Its total population is estimated at just 2500-10000 mature individuals. Habitat loss from farming, pine plantations, illegal crops, and urbanization poses the main threat. The Santa Marta woodstar is classified as Endangered by the IUCN Red List.
Protecting remaining forest fragments and suitable habitat within its range is crucial. Ecotourism and birdwatching tourism help raise awareness and give local communities incentive to conserve the unique biodiversity of the Santa Marta mountains. Captive breeding programs have also been established as an insurance population for this rare endemic hummingbird. Further research is needed to determine its total population size and degree of fragmentation across its range.
– Scientific Name: Chaetocercus astreans
– Other Names: Santa Marta Woodstar, Santa Marta Sabrewing
– Wingspan: 7-8 cm
– Weight: 2-3 g
– Diet: Nectar, pollen, insects
– Lifespan: approx. 5 years
– Sexual maturity: 1 year
– Clutch size: 2 eggs
– Incubation period: 15-19 days
– Fledging period: 20-26 days
– The Santa Marta woodstar is rivaled only by the bee hummingbird of Cuba as the smallest hummingbird species in the world.
– Its tiny size allows it unique access to flower nectar of endemic plants pollinated only by this hummingbird.
– The male has one of the most vibrant, glittering plumages of any hummingbird. The iridescence is produced by microscopic color platelets in the feathers that reflect specific wavelengths of light.
– To conserve energy, the Santa Marta woodstar enters torpor at night by lowering its metabolic rate and body temperature.
– The species exhibits ‘trap-lining’ behavior, whereby an individual bird regularly visits favorite flower patches in a repeatable sequence or circuit.
– Fragmentation of remaining suitable habitat poses the major threat to this range-restricted endemic species.
In summary, the dazzling Santa Marta woodstar is a jewel of Colombia’s avifauna but faces an uncertain future due to extensive habitat loss. Protecting remaining montane forest and paramo within its narrow range is critical. Ecotourism and further research can help raise awareness and funding for conserving this unique hummingbird along with the spectacular biodiversity of the Santa Marta mountains.