With their glittering plumage shimmering in the sunlight, spangled coquette hummingbirds are a sight to behold. These tiny, energetic birds live in tropical regions of South America, where their beauty and speed dazzle lucky observers. In this article, we’ll explore the traits and behaviors that make this hummingbird species so remarkable.
Reaching only 2-3 inches in length, the spangled coquette is one of the smaller hummingbird species. Yet what they lack in size, they make up for in vibrant color. The male spangled coquette has an iridescent emerald green crown and back, with a bright white stripe behind each eye. Their throat and chest gleam with irridescent pinkish-violet, bordered below with a wide metallic green band. The tail is relatively short and forked, with the outer feathers tipped in black. The female lacks the ornate plumage of the male, with an overall greenish upper body and pale grey underside. Her tail is slightly longer than the male’s, with white tips on the outer feathers.
Both sexes of the spangled coquette have very short bills, an adaptation for their specialized nectar-feeding. Their tongues are long and narrowly forked, perfectly suited for accessing nectar deep within tropical flowers. Spangled coquettes are precision hoverers, able to stay nearly motionless while feeding. This provides minimal disturbance to the flower while allowing efficient nectar uptake.
Range and Habitat
The spangled coquette is found across northern South America in parts of Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Brazil. Its habitat is lowland tropical rainforest and forest edges from sea level up to 2500 feet in elevation. Abundant flowering plants and a warm, humid climate year-round allow these birds to thrive.
Spangled coquettes prefer forests with light gaps and edges, where flowering vines, shrubs and trees provide ample nectar. Specialized plants like heliconias and passionflowers have evolved with certain hummingbirds like the spangled coquette, providing a consistent nectar source in exchange for pollination. These energetic, territorial hummingbirds play a vital role as pollinators for tropical plants.
Feeding, Behavior and Reproduction
To power their hovering flight, spangled coquettes need to consume over half their body weight in nectar each day. They use their slender bills to drink nectar from specialized tropical flowers, visiting hundreds of blossoms daily. Spangled coquettes supplement their diet with small insects, which provide protein. They expertly pluck insects from leaves and bark with their bills while hovering.
The male spangled coquette is highly territorial, using aerial displays to defend flower-rich feeding areas from intruders. He performs dramatic dive displays, flying upwards then diving down while making buzzing or popping sounds with his tail feathers. The function of these displays is to intimidate rivals and impress potential mates.
Spangled coquettes breed in the rainy season when flowering is at its peak. The female builds a tiny cup nest out of plant down held together with spider silk. She incubates the two pea-sized white eggs for 15-19 days before they hatch. The chicks fledge in just 18-23 days, an exceptionally short time compared to other birds. This rapid development is necessary in the fierce competition for tropical nectar sources.
Threats and Conservation
While still relatively common, spangled coquette populations are declining in parts of their range due to habitat loss. Widespread deforestation for agriculture, logging and development has reduced their specialized rainforest habitat. Excessive pesticide use also diminishes the insects they rely on for protein. However, these tiny hummingbirds are adaptable and can utilize gardens, parks and farms if adequate flowers are available. Conserving patches of tropical forest along with corridors is crucial to protect not just this species but countless others.
The dazzling spangled coquette perfectly embodies the diversity and splendor of neotropical hummingbirds. As jewels of South America’s rainforests, they showcase the beauty hidden within a vanishing wilderness. If protected, these shimmering birds will continue to captivate people while playing their co-evolutionary role among the flowers. Their glimmering plumage reminds us that this planet still holds infinite wonders worth preserving.