The violet-bellied hummingbird (Eulampis jugularis) is a small hummingbird species found in tropical regions of Central and South America. With its vibrant plumage and energetic flight, this hummingbird has captivated bird enthusiasts and researchers alike.
The violet-bellied hummingbird reaches lengths of 7-9 cm and weights of 3-4 grams. As its name suggests, the male has brilliant violet coloring on its underside and belly. The upperparts are a glossy green, while the head is a shimmering greenish-blue. The female is similar but less vibrant, with pale grey underparts rather than violet. She can be distinguished from other female hummingbirds by her white tips on the outer tail feathers.
Both sexes have a straight black bill perfect for sipping nectar. Their feet are small with an anatomy adapted for perching rather than walking or hopping. When in flight, their wings beat up to 70 times per second, allowing them to hover and change direction instantaneously. This agile flight gives them superb aerial maneuverability.
Native Habitat and Range
The violet-bellied hummingbird is found along tropical humid lowland and foothill areas from southern Mexico south to Panama. Their range extends across the Pacific and Caribbean coastal regions. Though locally common within their range, loss of habitat has caused an overall decline in population numbers.
Preferred habitat includes forest edges, second growth, semi-open areas, parks, and plantations. They occur up to elevations of 1200 m and are a lowland species. Flowers, flowering shrubs and small trees that provide nectar are vital habitat components. Violets prefer habitats that offer both sunny openings and shaded areas.
Like all hummingbirds, violets are specialized nectarivores. They use their slender bills to drink nectar from colorful tubular blossoms. Native plants such as heliconias, angel trumpets and fuchsias are frequent nectar sources. Violets also visit citrus and eucalyptus flowers in urban areas.
In addition to nectar, these birds supplement their diet with small insects including mosquitoes, spiders, ants and flies. They catch insect prey on the wing or glean them from foliage. A few favorite perches allow surveying for both nectar plants and insect meals.
Hummingbirds have many specialized adaptations that enable their unique lifestyle. Lightweight bills perfectly suited to nectar feeding, hover-capable flight muscles, and a rapid metabolism are some of their best-known adaptations.
Violet-bellied hummingbirds share these adaptations but also have some structural adaptations related to their preferred lowland habitat. Their slightly longer wings and tails increase aerodynamic performance in more enclosed forest areas. Stronger feet and legs help them perch on a variety of flowering plants and small branches.
Their vibrant plumage color may serve multiple purposes. The dazzling violet belly of the male likely plays a role in attracting females. But the sheen of their feathers may also function to deflect heavy rainfall in wet tropical zones. Even their breeding cycle is adapted to take advantage of the rainy season when more flowers are in bloom.
Breeding and Nesting
The violet-bellied hummingbird breeds in the wet season from July to November. Courtship displays involve aerial maneuvers and chases by the male as he repeatedly dives to impress the female. Once paired, female violets build a tiny cup nest on a low horizontal branch or tree fern frond.
She constructs the nest out of plant down, spiderwebs and lichens. The outside is camouflaged with moss and bits of bark. The inside has a lining of soft plant fibers. The female cares for the nest without assistance, incubating the two pea-sized eggs for 15-19 days.
Chicks hatch with eyes closed and almost devoid of feathers. They develop quickly though, ready to leave the nest at 3 weeks old. The mother continues care even after fledging, feeding the chicks as they learn to fly and forage. Violet-bellied hummingbirds face threats from birds of prey, snakes and inclement weather. But successful breeders may go on to live 5 years or more in the wild.
While still reasonably common in Central America, violet-bellied hummingbird numbers have decreased over decades according to monitoring programs. Destruction of rainforest habitats is the primary threat facing this and many other hummingbird species.
However, even small forest fragments, residential gardens and plantation trees can provide habitat corridors if native nectar plants are made available. Preserving habitat diversity can allow resilient bird species to flourish. Ecotourism may potentially aid conservation by giving forested areas recreational value.
In captivity, violet-bellied hummingbirds can live up to 10 years with proper care. But humane practices limit removal from wild populations. Captive breeding has not gained traction due to the challenges meeting these active birds’ needs. Conservation efforts remain focused on preserving wild populations and habitats.
Appreciating Violet Beauties
The dazzling violet-bellied hummingbird has captivated people’s attention both for its beauty and its adaptability. While enjoying their grace in zoos and private aviaries, many find that appreciating these birds in the wild is the greatest joy. Observing their antics in native settings allows us to better understand the lives of these tiny sparkling creatures. If current conservation efforts succeed, these violet beauties will continue to glisten over tropical forests for generations to come.