Sooty-capped Hermit Hummingbird Species

The sooty-capped hermit hummingbird is a small hummingbird that is found in Central America, ranging from southern Mexico to western Panama. With its dark gray cap and throat, white underparts, and reddish-brown tail, it is a distinctly recognizable hummingbird species. This article will provide a comprehensive overview of the sooty-capped hermit hummingbird, including its physical description, habitat and range, diet and foraging behavior, reproduction and breeding, taxonomy and conservation status.

Physical Description

The sooty-capped hermit hummingbird measures around 11-12 centimeters in length, making it a relatively small hummingbird species. As its name suggests, its most distinctive feature is the dark grayish sooty cap on its head along with a grayish throat. Its underparts from chin to belly are mostly white. The upperparts are metallic green in color. The tail is fairly long and forked, with rufous-brown coloring on the outer feathers. The bill of the sooty-capped hermit is long, straight and black. Juvenile birds look similar but have buffy edges to their body feathers. The female resembles the male, but has green margins on the throat and chest feathers.

Range and Habitat

The sooty-capped hermit hummingbird is found from southeastern Mexico through Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica, to central and western Panama. Its natural habitats are tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests, plantations, rural gardens and heavily degraded former forest. It occurs at elevations from sea level to 1200 meters.

This species is a year-round resident throughout most of its range. However some seasonal movements have been noted, and the abundance of this species seems to increase in the wet season in certain areas. It does not undertake long migrations, but may move to lower elevations in the drier months.

Diet and Foraging

Like all hummingbirds, the sooty-capped hermit subsists primarily on nectar taken from a variety of brightly colored, mostly tubular flowers. It favors flowers located in the understory and forest edges over those in open areas. Some favorite nectar sources are plants in the Heliconia genus as well as species in the Rubiaceae, Gesneriaceae, and Bromeliaceae plant families.

The long decurved bill of this hummingbird is an adaptation for accessing nectar from curved flowers. This species also has a long, extendable tongue which it uses to drink nectar while hovering at flowers.

In addition to nectar, the sooty-capped hermit supplements its diet by hawking small insects and arthropods such as mosquitoes, midges, spiders and aphids. It gleans these prey items while in flight, sometimes circling bushes and tree branches where small insects may gather.

Reproduction and Breeding

The breeding season of the sooty-capped hermit coincides with the wet season in Central America, typically from May to August but varying by geographic location. During this time the male performs courtship displays to impress prospective female mates. These displays involve flying back and forth in rapid U-shaped patterns and sudden upward surges.

Once paired, the female builds a small cup-shaped nest out of plant down and spider webs, attaching it to a tree limb. Typical nest placement is 1 to 10 meters above ground. She lays just two tiny white eggs in the nest. Incubation lasts 15-19 days and the chicks fledge in about 20-26 days. The female cares for the young without assistance from the male.

This species may raise multiple broods in a single breeding season. Pairs do not usually remain together for subsequent nestings. The female has sole responsibility for building the nest and caring for the eggs and chicks.

Taxonomy and Conservation Status

The sooty-capped hermit is classified in the order Apodiformes, family Trochilidae. It is one of 105 recognized species in the Phaethornithinae subfamily, known as the hermit hummingbirds. This group gets its name from members’ tendency to inhabit dark understory forest areas. There are three recognized subspecies of the sooty-capped hermit:

– P. a. augusti – found from southern Mexico to northwestern Costa Rica.

– P. a. saturatus – found from central Costa Rica to western Panama. Distinguished by darker plumage on back and tail.

– P. a. veraguensis – found in western Panama. Has lighter gray cap and slightly shorter bill.

Though still fairly common in parts of its range like Costa Rica, the sooty-capped hermit has declined in other areas due to loss of habitat. Deforestation has reduced its shelter and food sources. However, its ability to inhabit partially open areas makes it less vulnerable than some other hummingbird species. The IUCN Red List categorizes this species as Least Concern. Ongoing preservation of tropical forest environments will be important for the long-term survival of the sooty-capped hermit hummingbird.

In Summary

With its distinctive dark cap and long curved bill, the aptly named sooty-capped hermit hummingbird is a charming Neotropical species. Though small in stature, it plays an important role as a pollinator for forest plants and occupies a unique ecological niche across its Central American range. Maintaining habitat protections will be key to ensuring thriving populations of this and other tropical hummingbird species into the future.