The Scale-throated Hermit (Phaethornis eurynome) is a species of hummingbird found in Central and South America. With its distinctive scaled throat feathers and long, curved bill, the Scale-throated Hermit is a unique and fascinating bird.
The Scale-throated Hermit is a medium-sized hummingbird, measuring around 11-12 cm in length. It gets its name from the unique scale-like feathers on its throat, which are dark gray edged with white. The upperparts of the Scale-throated Hermit are a shining green, while the underparts are mostly white. The long bill is slightly upturned and red with a black tip. The legs and feet are also black.
Males and females look similar, but females may have slightly shorter bills and less distinct throat feathers. Immature birds lack the scaled throat feathers. There are three recognized subspecies of the Scale-throated Hermit, which vary slightly in size and color.
Distribution and Habitat
The Scale-throated Hermit has a broad distribution across Central and South America. Its range extends from southeastern Mexico south through Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador to Panama. In South America, it is found in Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Brazil and the Guianas.
This species inhabits tropical lowland forests, forest edges, second growth, plantations and gardens. It occurs from sea level up to elevations of 1200 m. Scale-throated Hermits are not migratory, but may make seasonal movements following the flowering of food plants.
Diet and Feeding
Like all hummingbirds, the Scale-throated Hermit feeds primarily on nectar taken from a variety of colorful, tubular flowers. Some favorite food plants include Heliconia, Inga, Erythrina, Palicourea and Pachystachys species. The long, decurved bill of the Scale-throated Hermit allows it to access nectar from blooms with corollas of different shapes and sizes.
The Scale-throated Hermit also consumes small insects and spiders, which provide important proteins. Aerial insects are captured during flight, while spiders and insects on leaves and bark are gleaned as the bird perches near foliage.
Behavior and Breeding
The Scale-throated Hermit is solitary and territorial. Males establish territories with feeding areas rich in flowers. They perform flight displays to ward off intruders and attract females. In the displays, the male flies in rapid U-shaped or oval patterns, with loud buzzing created by the wing feathers.
Courtship involves the male flying back and forth in front of the female. If she is receptive, she will perch and allow him to mate with her. The female Scale-throated Hermit builds a small cup nest out of plant fibers, bound with spider silk and lichen. It is constructed on a low branch or tree fork 1-4 meters above ground.
The female lays two tiny white eggs. She incubates them alone for 15-19 days. The chicks are fed regurgitated food by the female and fledge at about 20-26 days old. Not much else is known about the behavior and breeding habits of this secretive species.
Threats and Conservation
Widespread throughout its large range, the Scale-throated Hermit is evaluated as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. However, habitat loss is an issue in parts of its range, especially Central America. Capture for the pet trade also occurs but is not considered a major threat.
Protection of tropical forests through habitat conservation will be important for the future survival of the Scale-throated Hermit. More research is needed on the basic natural history of this species. Ecotourism may help provide an incentive to protect its habitat.
– The Scale-throated Hermit uses its long bill to steal nectar from flowers by piercing at the base rather than entering the mouth, a behavior called “robbing.” This allows it to access nectar from blossoms like Hamelia and Mandevilla that have complicated floral structures.
– Sometimes the Scale-throated Hermit poises motionless in front of flowers while feeding, appearing more like an insect than a bird. This may help it sneak up on nectar or insect prey.
– The scales on its throat are unique among hermit hummingbirds and may function in visual signaling during courtship displays.
– This species was originally described in 1827 by German naturalists Friedrich Boie and Heinrich Kuhl. Its scientific name Phaethornis comes from a Greek word meaning “shining,” referring to its iridescent plumage.
In summary, the Scale-throated Hermit is a distinctive neotropical hummingbird with fascinating adaptations for feeding on flower nectar. Its broad distribution means it is not currently at risk, but habitat conservation will be important for this rainforest-dwelling species. There is still more to learn about the behavior and ecology of the Scale-throated Hermit.