Tawny-bellied Hermit Hummingbird Species

The tawny-bellied hermit (Phaethornis syrmatophorus) is a species of hummingbird found in tropical regions of Central and South America. With its long curved bill and short tail, this species is unmistakable among other hummingbirds. Read on to learn more about the identification, range, habitat, diet, behavior, reproduction, and conservation status of this fascinating bird.


The tawny-bellied hermit is a relatively large hummingbird, measuring 15-17 cm (5.9-6.7 in) in length and weighing around 8-10 g (0.28-0.35 oz). As the name suggests, this species has an overall tawny or rufous plumage on the underparts. The throat is whitish with dark streaks while the belly is cinnamon-rufous in color. The upperparts are metallic green but can appear more bronze-green depending on lighting conditions. The tail is short and square-tipped. The long bill is decurved and black. The legs and feet are also black.

Males and females look alike, but juveniles have buffy edges to the plumage feathers. This buffy edging is lost with age. The tawny-bellied hermit is similar to other hermit hummingbird species, but it is larger with a longer bill and whiter throat than most. It isidentified by its distinctive vocalizations, sounding like a sharp “pik!” or “peet!”.

Range and Habitat

The tawny-bellied hermit is found from southeastern Mexico south through Central America to Bolivia, Brazil, and northwestern Argentina. Its range spans tropical lowland and foothill forest as well as adjacent habitats like plantations and gardens.

This species occurs up to elevations of 1200 m in the south of its range, but is usually found below 900 m. It prefers humid forest interiors and forest edges near streams and clearings. The tawny-bellied hermit inhabits both primary forest and secondary growth. It also readily visits gardens with tubular flowers.


Like all hummingbirds, the tawny-bellied hermit feeds on nectar from flowers using its long specialized tongue. It obtains most of its nectar from understory herbs, shrubs, and small trees, including plants in the Rubiaceae, Heliconiaceae, and Gesneriaceae families.

The hermit will also hawk small insects to obtain proteins, vitamins, and minerals. It may steal spiders and insect prey from spiderwebs. It prefers to take insect prey while perched rather than catching insects in flight.


The tawny-bellied hermit lives alone or in pairs, defending flower territories against intrusions by other hummingbirds. Males are highly territorial and use ritualized aerial displays to advertise and defend their territories. They perform U-shaped flight patterns and loud wing-clapping sounds during these displays.

This species can be quite aggressive, chasing away other hummingbirds as well as larger birds like thrushes that try to feed on their flowers. But they are typically cautious around people, waiting until humans move away before approaching feeders.

The hermit hummingbird gets its common name from its habit of quietly lurking and perching motionless amid dense vegetation. Despite their reclusive habits, these hummingbirds may be observed visiting more open areas to feed on flowers.


The breeding season of the tawny-bellied hermit varies across its range. In Central America and Colombia, breeding takes place between November and May. Farther south in Brazil and Bolivia, breeding occurs between August and December.

During courtship, the male performs a diving display flight over the female as well as aerial fights with other males. Once paired, the female constructs a small cup nest on a low horizontal branch or tree fork 1-2 m above ground.

The nest is compact, made of soft plant fibers and adorned with lichens on the exterior for camouflage. The female lays two tiny white eggs. She incubates the eggs alone for 15-19 days until they hatch. The chicks fledge around 20-26 days after hatching.

Conservation Status

The tawny-bellied hermit has a broad range and large total population. Its population trend appears to be stable, so the IUCN Red List categorizes this species as Least Concern. Habitat loss is a localized threat, but this adaptable species persists quite well in degraded areas, plantations, and gardens. As long as some forest cover remains, the tawny-bellied hermit continues to thrive over most of its range.

In summary, the tawny-bellied hermit is a distinctive tropical hummingbird known for its cryptic habits but fascinating displays. This versatile species occurs in a variety of forest and wooded habitats across Central and South America. While shy, it can be enticed to visit feeders and flowers in gardens. The tawny-bellied hermit remains common and resilient in the face of some habitat degradation, a testament to the incredible adaptations of hummingbirds.