The blue-chested hummingbird is a small, vibrantly colored hummingbird found in South America. With its bright blue chest and green-streaked underparts, it is one of the more colorful members of the over 300 different hummingbird species. This species is notable for its mating displays, its habitat range, and its specialized feeding behaviors. In this article, we will explore the key identifying features of the blue-chested hummingbird, its distribution and habitat, diet and feeding behaviors, courtship displays, nesting habits, and current conservation status.
The blue-chested hummingbird earns its common name from the adult male’s brilliant, azure blue throat and chest, which contrasts sharply with its emerald green underparts. The upperparts of the male are a metallic green over most of the back and head. The tail is mostly rufous, and the bill is straight and black. Females lack the bright blue and green plumage of the male. Instead, they are overall greenish above and pale gray below, with white outer tail feathers. The female’s throat may show some spotting, but lacks the vivid blue of the male. Both sexes have a white spot behind each eye. Juveniles resemble adult females.
Blue-chested hummingbirds reach a length of about 3.5 inches, with a weight of 2-3 grams. Despite their tiny size, they have proportionately large, strong wings allowing them to hover in place and fly backwards or upside down. Their long, specialized beaks and tongues are perfectly adapted for accessing nectar from flowers.
Range and Habitat
The blue-chested hummingbird is found from Costa Rica south through western Panama, and in South America from Colombia and Venezuela south to Peru, Bolivia and central Brazil. It occurs in tropical and subtropical forests, forest edges, clearings, parks, and gardens. This species is found mainly at lower elevations up to around 2500 feet.
The species is divided into several subspecies across its range. The nominate subspecies A. a. amabilis occurs in eastern Colombia, Venezuela and the Guianas. A. a. chlorospila is found from eastern Ecuador to northeastern Peru and northwestern Brazil. A. a. mosquera inhabits southwestern Colombia and western Ecuador. And A. a. saturata occupies central Costa Rica and western Panama.
Diet and Feeding
Like all hummingbirds, the blue-chested hummingbird feeds mainly on nectar from flowers. It prefers flowers with sturdy bases that can support its weight. Some favorite food plants include species in the Rubiaceae, Heliconiaceae, and Bromeliaceae families. The long bill and extendable tongue are perfectly suited to probing flowers and lapping up nectar.
The blue-chested hummingbird supplements its diet with small insects like gnats, aphids, and spiders. It gleans these prey items from foliage and flowers, or opportunistically hawks flying insects in flight. The protein gained from insects is an essential part of the diet, allowing the birds to metabolize energy from the sugar-rich nectar.
To fuel its supercharged metabolism, the blue-chested hummingbird must feed almost constantly when awake. Its feeding territories often center around one or two preferred nectar-producing plants. The birds aggressively defend these prime feeding sites from intruders.
Courtship and Breeding
One of the most interesting features of the blue-chested hummingbird is the elaborate courtship display the males perform. When trying to impress a female, the male flies rapidly back and forth in a U-shaped pattern in front of her. He makes noisy wing trills and buzzing sounds with his tail feathers during this energetic display flight.
Once paired, the female builds a small, compact nest out of plant down, spider webs, and lichen on a low branch or tree fork. She incubates the two tiny white eggs alone for about 15-19 days. The chicks are born helpless, with closed eyes and few feathers. Both parents feed the chicks with regurgitated insects and nectar. After fledging at 20-26 days old, the young birds must learn to fly skillfully and feed themselves.
The blue-chested hummingbird has a very large range and is described as common in some areas. The IUCN Red List categorizes it as a species of Least Concern. However, habitat loss is gradually reducing its population. Expanding agriculture and development are destroying the tropical forests this species inhabits. The hummingbird’s bright, colorful plumage also makes it potentially vulnerable to the caged bird trade. Continued habitat conservation will be important for protecting the blue-chested hummingbird into the future.
With its brilliant plumage and energetic courtship displays, the blue-chested hummingbird is one of the more visually striking of the many hummingbird species. It is a classic example of an evolutionary marvel – a bird adapted to hover and feed on flower nectar. While still common, increasing habitat loss may threaten this species in the future. Protecting tropical forests across Central and South America will help ensure the blue-chested hummingbird continues to dazzle us with its beauty.