The Sapphire-throated Hummingbird (Lepidopyga coeruleogularis) is a small hummingbird found in tropical regions of South America. With its vibrant blue throat and green-backed body, it is one of the most colorful hummingbird species.
The Sapphire-throated Hummingbird reaches about 8-9 cm in length and weighs around 5 grams. The male has brilliant, shimmering sapphire blue feathers on its throat, with a black mask on its face. Its plumage is mostly metallic green on the head, back and wings, with a grayish-white underside. The long, thin bill is black, adapted for reaching nectar deep inside flowers. The female is similar but lacks the vibrant blue throat, instead having whitish feathers speckled with green and black on the throat and chest.
This agile, flying jewel has short wings that beat up to 80 times per second, allowing it to hover in place or fly in any direction with precision. The wings make a high-pitched buzzing sound during flight. The Sapphire-throated Hummingbird can fly forwards, backwards and even upside down. Its feet are small and adapted for perching rather than walking or hopping.
Distribution and Habitat
The Sapphire-throated Hummingbird is found in tropical South America east of the Andes, mainly in Brazil but also Paraguay, Bolivia and Argentina. Its natural habitats are forest edges, gardens, plantations and savannas. It prefers open, semi-open and disturbed areas where there are plenty of flowering plants providing nectar.
Like most hummingbirds, the Sapphire-throated Hummingbird is a solitary species. Males are highly territorial, aggressively defending a feeding territory from other males or even larger intruders. Females and juveniles may feed more peacefully together.
Diet and Feeding
With its rapid metabolism, the Sapphire-throated Hummingbird needs to consume substantial amounts of energy in the form of nectar and small insects each day just to survive. Its preferred food is nectar, which provides quick energy. It uses its specialized feeding adaptation – a long, extendable tongue with forked tips – to drink nectar from flowers.
This species prefers flowers with sturdy petals that can support its weight as it hovers, such as perennial shrubs and small trees. Some favorite nectar sources are the flowers of cashew and nutmeg trees, poinsettia, and species of salvias, aloes, and fuchsias. The hummingbird’s bill is perfectly suited to reach into different shaped flowers. As it licks up the nectar with its extendable tongue, pollen sticks to its head and bill, allowing it to play an important role in plant pollination.
The Sapphire-throated Hummingbird supplements its diet with small protein-rich prey including insects and spiders. It hawks flying insects out of the air or gleans them from leaves and branches. Prey is sometimes caught mid-air during the hummingbird’s aerial courtship displays.
Reproduction and Life Cycle
The breeding season for Sapphire-throated Hummingbirds coincides with the rainy season from October to March. As part of courtship, the male performs aerial displays, flying in pendulum-like patterns to attract females. If a female is receptive, she may mate with the male.
The female constructs a small cup-shaped nest out of plant down, spider webs and lichens, attached to a thin branch. She lays two tiny white eggs in the nest, which she incubates alone for about 16 days. The chicks hatch with their eyes sealed shut and almost no feathers. They are reliant on their mother for warmth, shelter and food.
The female cares for and feeds the chicks with regurgitated nectar and insects. As they grow a covering of downy feathers, the mother spends more time away from the nest finding food. After about 3 weeks, the young hummingbirds are ready to leave the nest and fend for themselves. They reach sexual maturity after one year. In the wild, the Sapphire-throated Hummingbird lives an average of 5 to 6 years.
The Sapphire-throated Hummingbird may migrate short distances across its range in South America but does not make substantial migrations. Resident populations remain year-round in suitable habitat where flowering plants are available. If food becomes scarce, such as during the dry season, some individuals may move to a new location with better resources. There is not a predictable, cyclic migration like some northern temperate hummingbirds.
The vocalizations of the Sapphire-throated Hummingbird include short, high-pitched squeaking or ticking sounds used in courtship or aggressive encounters. Male and female hummingbirds sing to advertise territory and attract mates. Though high-frequency, their various squeaks and buzzes contribute to the pleasant daytime soundscape of the tropical forest when many birds are active.
Status and Threats
The Sapphire-throated Hummingbird has a wide range across South America and large total population estimated up to 1 million individuals. Though some local populations in altered habitats may decline, its overall population remains stable, leading the IUCN Red List to classify it as a species of Least Concern.
Main threats to this hummingbird come from habitat loss as tropical forests are logged or turned into agricultural land. Pesticides may also reduce insect prey populations. The popularity of exotic tropical flowering plants has helped provide artificial habitat in gardens and parks. Providing a continuous source of flowers through the seasons helps support resident hummingbird populations.
With its glittering sapphire blue throat, the Sapphire-throated Hummingbird naturally captures human attention. This beautiful bird has inspired indigenous stories, artworks, jewelry designs, postage stamps from Brazil and Guyana, and names of places across South America. Seeing a flashing Sapphire-throated Hummingbird come to feed on garden flowers is considered good luck.
The Sapphire-throated Hummingbird appears in the paintings of Brazilian artist Alcides Pereira, in jewelry designs of Peruvian artist Jorge Eder, and on a postage stamp issued by Guyana in 2013. It has been a muse for poems and literary metaphors invoking love, energy, vibrancy, and delicate natural beauty.
Hummingbirds have captivated humans for millennia. They symbolize many concepts across native cultures of the Americas, including:
– Energy and vigor – Hummingbirds have seemingly endless energy as they buzz around drinking nectar. Their rapid wing beats and darting motions represent vitality.
– Joy and playfulness – Their aerobatics and energetic movements convey a sense of joy and play.
– Resurrection and renewal – Aztecs saw the return of hummingbird species each spring as a symbol of renewed life after death.
– Courage and strength – Despite their tiny size, they are brave in confronting larger adversaries fearlessly.
– Love and relationships – Hummingbirds coming together represents affection; some South American cultures believed hummingbirds guided souls to heaven.
– Focus and dexterity – Their ability to precisely hover and manipulate flowers represents great skill and focus.
– Appreciation of beauty – Hummingbirds especially appreciate and feed on beautiful, colorful flowers.
For millennia, hummingbirds have lifted human spirits with their beauty and energetic display. The dazzling Sapphire-throated Hummingbird remains an enduring symbol of nature’s wonder and capacity for joy. From indigenous cultures to the present day, people continue to find inspiration from these captivating creatures. The Sapphire-throated Hummingbird’s beauty motivates efforts to conserve tropical habitats and ensure future generations can also enjoy these flying jewels.