Bearded Mountaineer Hummingbird Species

The Bearded Mountaineer Hummingbird: A Fascinating High-Altitude Species

The bearded mountaineer hummingbird (Oreotrochilus leucopleurus) is a fascinating species of hummingbird found in the Andes Mountains of South America. Unlike most hummingbirds, this species has adapted to survive at high elevations of up to 16,000 feet. In this article, we’ll explore the unique adaptations, behavior, breeding, and conservation status of this rugged, high-flying hummingbird.

Physical Adaptations

The bearded mountaineer hummingbird has several distinct physical adaptations that allow it to thrive in cold, low-oxygen environments. Its compact body helps retain heat, while its long wings provide extra lift for flying in thin air. Its bill is specially curved to sip nectar from bottlebrush flowers found at high elevations. Dense, whiskery feathers around its beak trap heat and may prevent water loss. This is how the bird got its common name “the bearded mountaineer.”

Most remarkably, this hummingbird has the highest hemoglobin count of any vertebrate animal. Hemoglobin is the protein that carries oxygen in the blood. The bearded mountaineer’s blood is comprised of almost 50% hemoglobin, allowing it to effectively respire even with minimal oxygen availability.

Behavior and Breeding

Unlike most hummingbirds, the bearded mountaineer is non-migratory. Pairs remain in the same high Andes breeding territory year-round. Courtship displays involve aerial maneuvers and shuttle flights by the male. Interestingly, this species is monogamous – pairs remain bonded until one mate dies.

The female alone constructs a small cup nest on a cliff ledge out of moss, fibers, and feathers. She typically lays just two pea-sized eggs. To incubate in the cold mountain air, she possesses specialized feathers on her belly that provide direct body heat to the eggs. Both parents feed the chicks with regurgitated insects and nectar. The young fledge the nest after about a month.


Like all hummingbirds, the bearded mountaineer feeds mainly on nectar from specialized high-altitude flowers such as red-tubed lupine. Its bill shape exactly matches the flower shape for maximum nectar extraction. The bird supplements its diet with small insects like flies, spiders, and beetles. It uses its extendable tongue to snag insect prey while flying.

Conservation Status

While the bearded mountaineer is currently listed as Least Concern by the IUCN, it has a small and fragmented range. Just like more famous Andes animals such as the mountain tapir and Andean condor, habitat loss from human activities poses the biggest threat to the bearded mountaineer. Initiatives that protect Andean grasslands and high-altitude shrublands will benefit the long-term survival of this unique hummingbird.

The hardy, handsome bearded mountaineer hummingbird has captured the admiration of ornithologists for its remarkable adaptations to its extreme environment. As development and climate change impact high-altitude ecosystems, conservation efforts will be key to protecting the vulnerable habitat of this flying jewel of the Andes. With appropriate high-elevation land preservation, the bearded mountaineer will continue its aerial antics in mountain passes for decades to come.