Brown Inca Hummingbird Species

The Brown Inca (Coeligena wilsoni) is a species of hummingbird found in the Andes Mountains of South America. With its glittering copper and green plumage, distinct white tail tips, and elongated bill, the Brown Inca is a striking and unmistakable hummer. This article will provide an overview of the Brown Inca, including its identification, geographic range, habitat, diet, behavior, reproduction, conservation status, and interesting facts.


The Brown Inca can be identified by its mostly coppery-brown plumage on the head, back, rump, and undersides, with bright emerald green on the uppertail coverts, throat, and chest. The male has an iridescent gorget (throat patch) that shimmers between coppery-red and green depending on the lighting. Females lack the vibrant gorget and are duller overall. Both sexes have a straight black bill, white outer tail feathers, and white wing bar patches that are visible in flight. Juveniles resemble adult females. At 4.3-4.7 inches in length, the Brown Inca is a relatively small hummingbird species.

Range and Habitat

The Brown Inca is endemic to the Andes Mountains of South America, found at elevations between 2000-4100 meters. Its range extends from central Peru south through Bolivia to northwestern Argentina. It occurs in humid montane forest, elfin forest, forest edges, clearings, and bushy pastures with flowering plants. Large latitudinal movements have been observed, with the species vacating the highest altitudes during the winter months.


Like all hummingbirds, the Brown Inca feeds on nectar from flowers using its long, specialized tongue. It favors flowers of the genus Salvia as well as Fuchsia, Barnadesia, Baccharis shrubs, and giant rosette plants such as Puya. The Brown Inca supplements its diet with small insects including flies, beetles, and mosquitoes, which provide protein and nutrients. The elongated bill allows it to access nectar from long, tubular flowers.


The Brown Inca feeds alone or in pairs, aggressively defending flower patches from intruders. Courting males perform aerial displays, flying in looping U-shaped patterns to impress females. Vocalizations include sharp chips and high-pitched squeaky notes. The Brown Inca is known for entering torpor (a state of decreased physiological activity) to conserve energy overnight. It perches horizontally when sleeping, camouflaged against mossy branches.


The breeding season of the Brown Inca correlates with flower availability, generally occurring from October to April. Males establish small territories with suitable nectar supplies to attract a mate. The female builds a delicate cup nest out of plant fibers, spiders’ silk, and moss on a low horizontal branch or tree fern. She incubates the two tiny white eggs for about 16-19 days before they hatch. The chicks fledge in approximately 20-28 days.

Conservation Status

The Brown Inca has a wide distribution and large population, estimated at 100,000-1,000,000 adults. Although some localized declines have occurred, the species as a whole is not considered threatened and is evaluated as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. Habitat loss from cattle grazing and fire is a concern in some areas. The attractive Brown Inca is also trapped for the illegal pet trade in parts of its range.

Interesting Facts

– The genus name Coeligena comes from the Greek words meaning “hollow” and “cheeks”, referring to the hummingbird’s facial structure.

– Males perform aerial courtship displays at speeds exceeding 50 body lengths per second – among the fastest visual signaling in the animal kingdom.

– To conserve energy, the Brown Inca can lower its body temperature at night by over 10°C below its active daytime temperature.

– Relative to its weight, its egg is the smallest known bird egg.

– The Brown Inca’s elongated bill allows it to pollinate flowers with long corollas that other pollinators cannot access. This plant-hummingbird mutualism has helped drive the diversity of Andean flora.

In summary, the beautiful Brown Inca is a high-altitude specialist endemic to the Andes, where it plays an important role as a pollinator. It can survive cold temperatures and low oxygen levels through impressive physiological adaptations. The species exhibits unique behaviors from torpor to dizzying courtship displays. While not globally threatened, some populations are vulnerable, so conservation of its fragile mountain habitat remains important. The Brown Inca provides a fascinating look into the lives of hummingbirds and their specialized adaptations.