Scaly-breasted Hummingbird Species

The Scaly-breasted Hummingbird (Phaeochroa cuvierii) is a species of hummingbird found in Central America and northern South America. With its bright green back and breast feathers and white undertail, it is one of the most striking hummers of its range.


The Scaly-breasted Hummingbird is a medium-sized hummingbird, measuring 8-9 cm (3.1-3.5 in) in length and weighing 5-6 g (0.17-0.21 oz). As its name suggests, its most distinctive feature is its bright green back and breast, which have a scaly appearance due to each feather having a black central stripe. The belly is white, while the undertail coverts are white with green tips. The tail itself is black with white tips. The bill is straight and black. The sexes are alike.

Taxonomy and systematics

The Scaly-breasted Hummingbird is placed in the genus Phaeochroa, which has just two members. Its closest relative is the Bananaquit. It was described and given its current scientific name by French naturalist Georges Cuvier in 1817. No subspecies are recognized.

Distribution and habitat

The Scaly-breasted Hummingbird has a widespread distribution across Central America and northern South America. Its range extends from southern Mexico through Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. In South America it is found in Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.

This species occupies a range of wooded habitats including forest edges, second growth, semi-open areas, plantations and gardens. It ranges from sea level up to elevations of 2600 m.


As mentioned above, the Scaly-breasted Hummingbird is medium-sized for a hummingbird. Both sexes have bright metallic green upperparts and breast. The green feathers have a black central stripe, giving the scaly look which gives the bird its name.

The belly and undertail coverts are white. The tail is mostly black but the outer rectrices have white tips. The straight bill is black. The eyes are dark brown. The legs and feet are also blackish.

Juveniles resemble adults, but have buffy tips to the upperpart and breast feathers, giving a spotted appearance. The tail feathers may have rufous tips in young birds.

Diet and feeding

Like all hummingbirds, the Scaly-breasted Hummingbird feeds on nectar taken from a variety of brightly colored, scented small flowers of herbs, shrubs and trees. It favors flowers with the colors red, orange or pink, and uses its long, extendible tongue to retrieve the nectar while hovering in front of the flower.

As well as nectar, these birds take some small insects, especially spiders and insects trapped in spiderwebs. They may also visit sap wells excavated by woodpeckers.


The male Scaly-breasted Hummingbird attracts a female by performing a courtship display. This consists of flying in rapid horizontal arcs less than 1 m (3.3 ft) in front of the female while making squeaky sounds with his tail feathers.

Once paired, the female builds a small cup nest on a horizontal branch, often overhanging water. The nest is made of plant down bound with spiderweb and lined with soft plant fibers. She incubates the two white eggs alone for 15-19 days.

The chicks are fed by the female on small arthropods and nectar. They fledge after about 20-26 days in the nest.

Behavior and ecology

The Scaly-breasted Hummingbird is solitary and territorial. Males sing to defend their territories and display to attract females. They can be aggressive toward other hummingbirds encroaching on their territories, chasing intruders and even grappling with them in mid-air.

A variety of vocalizations are used including squeaks, chips and whistling notes. The wings produce a humming sound in flight thanks to the rapid wingbeats, which are so fast they may be invisible to the human eye.

This species has a direct flight with rapid wing beats. It can fly at speeds over 50 kph, including sudden bursts of acceleration to escape predators such as falcons. It is also highly maneuverable due to the ability to rotate its wings, allowing it to fly backwards, hover and abruptly change direction.

Like other hummingbirds, torpor is used to conserve energy overnight or when food is scarce. Body temperature and heart rate slow dramatically, and the bird enters a dormant state.

Status and conservation

The Scaly-breasted Hummingbird has a very large range and the population appears to be stable, so the species is evaluated as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List.

No major threats are known. Small-scale habitat loss through activities like logging may have a localized effect, and the birds may be vulnerable in some areas to trapping for the cage-bird trade. However, the population is generally resilient and the future of this beautiful hummingbird currently looks secure.

Cultural depictions

– The image of the Scaly-breasted Hummingbird has been featured on stamps from several countries including Colombia and Venezuela, helping promote wider awareness of this bird.

– It appears in the novel The Hummingbird’s Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea, set in late 19th century Mexico.

– The Scaly-breasted Hummingbird is the national bird of Peru, appearing on the coat of arms along with the national motto. It represents liberty and independence.

– Indigenous groups such as the Quechua have traditional folk stories featuring hummingbirds. The Scaly-breasted Hummingbird features in stories as a symbol of love.

– Tourist souvenirs such as T-shirts and ornaments depicting hummingbirds are popular in Central and South America. The vivid plumage of the Scaly-breasted Hummingbird makes it a favorite choice of design.

Key facts

– Order: Apodiformes
– Family: Trochilidae
– Genus: Phaeochroa
– Species: P. cuvierii
– Length: 8-9 cm (3.1-3.5 in)
– Weight: 5-6 g (0.17-0.21 oz)
– Wingspan: 11 cm (4.3 in)
– Population: Unknown but common and widespread
– Range: Mexico to Peru
– Habitat: Variety of wooded areas including forests, plantations and gardens
– Diet: Nectar and small insects
– Lifespan: Unknown, at least 5 years in wild
– Conservation status: Least Concern

In summary, the Scaly-breasted Hummingbird is a beautiful and iconic Latin American hummingbird species. With its bright plumage and energetic flight, it captivates people across its range. Although threatened in places by habitat loss, it remains common and the future looks promising for this charismatic bird.