Grey-bellied Comet Hummingbird Species

The Grey-bellied Comet Hummingbird (Sappho sparganura) is a small hummingbird found in parts of South America. With its green back, grey belly and long forked tail, it is a striking bird that has captivated ornithologists and bird enthusiasts alike.

Range and Habitat
The grey-bellied comet hummingbird is found exclusively in parts of Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador and Peru. Its range is quite restricted, limited to some Andean valleys and mountain slopes between elevations of 1800-3000m. It occupies humid montane forest and elfin forest habitats. Destruction of these forest habitats has led to the species becoming endangered in recent decades.

The grey-bellied comet hummingbird earns its name from its distinctive long, forked tail feathers which can measure up to 11cm in the male. The tail feathers resemble the long tail of a comet. When perched, the tail is usually held closed, but when in flight the tail opens into a distinctive forked shape.

The species exhibits sexual dimorphism. The male has an overall green plumage on its head, back and wings, transitioning to a grey underside from breast to belly. The female is slightly duller, with a brownish-olive green back. Both male and female have a small white spot behind each eye. The bill of the grey-bellied comet hummingbird is long, straight and black. The legs are short and black. Average length is 9-10cm and weight is 3-4g.

Diet and Feeding
Like all hummingbirds, the grey-bellied comet hummingbird feeds on flower nectar and tiny insects. It uses its specialized long bill to drink nectar from flowers. It is a trapliner, regularly visiting favorite flower feeding areas. Some favored food plants include species from the genera Bomarea, Drymonia, Centropogon and Columnea. It also hawks small insects to supplement its diet with protein.

Grey-bellied comet hummingbirds breed between April to June. The female builds a small cup nest out of plant fibers and spider webs, laying two tiny white eggs. Incubation lasts 14-19 days. The chicks fledge after another 20-26 days. The female alone cares for the nestlings.

Male courtship display consists of flying in U-shaped patterns in front of the female. If receptive, the female may pump her tail and the two birds mate. Males do not participate in child rearing.

Threats and Conservation
Grey-bellied comet hummingbird numbers have declined significantly in recent decades. Destruction of Andean mountain forests for agriculture, logging and human settlement has reduced available habitat. Capture for the pet trade may also impact some populations. Fortunately, some groups inhabit protected mountain forests, but habitat loss remains a concern. The IUCN Red List classifies the species as Endangered. Further habitat protection and limits on pet trade are conservation priorities. More research into its range and ecology are also needed to support conservation planning.

In Summary
With itsforked tail and green and grey plumage, the aptly named grey-bellied comet hummingbird is a distinctive and endangered bird found only in limited parts of the Andes mountains. Protecting remaining montane forest habitat is crucial to ensuring the survival of this specialized hummingbird into the future. Careful research and observations of its behaviors, breeding and movements can help inform conservation actions for a species at risk. The fate of the grey-bellied comet hummingbird highlights the precarious status of many specialized bird species and the importance of habitat conservation globally.