The Honduran Emerald (Amazilia luciae) is a species of hummingbird found exclusively in Honduras, Central America. With its vibrant emerald green plumage and long, straight black bill, the Honduran Emerald is considered one of the most striking and beautiful hummingbird species in the world.
The adult male Honduran Emerald has glossy emerald green upperparts and white underparts. The throat is glittering emerald green and the tail is forked with green central feathers. Females are similar but have white on the tips of the outer tail feathers. The long bill is straight and black. Honduran Emeralds measure between 8-9 cm in length and weigh around 5 grams.
The vibrant emerald plumage of this species is highly iridescent. When sunlight hits the feathers, they shine and appear to change color depending on the viewing angle. This is caused by the microscopic structure of the feathers which refracts light. The iridescent plumage is thought to play a role in attracting mates.
Distribution and Habitat
As the name suggests, the Honduran Emerald is endemic to Honduras in Central America. Its range is restricted to the cloud forests and mountain valleys on the Caribbean side of Honduras, at elevations between 450-2000 meters.
The preferred habitat is wet montane forest and areas near streams and rivers. Honduran Emeralds often inhabit the forest edge and open areas and are frequently seen visiting flowering plants along roadsides.
The limited range puts the Honduran Emerald at risk as their small geographic distribution means they are vulnerable to habitat loss. Deforestation remains the biggest threat.
Diet and Feeding
Like all hummingbirds, the Honduran Emerald feeds on nectar from flowering plants. Its long bill allows it to access nectar from long, tubular flowers. Species such as heliconias and other tropical flowers provide important food sources.
The Honduran Emerald also consumes small insects which provide additional protein. To capture insects, the birds will hawk flying insects and glean them from leaves and branches. Preferred insect prey includes mosquitoes, flies, beetles, and aphids.
The high metabolism of hummingbirds requires them to consume half their body weight in nectar each day. Their feeding territory is relatively small, only about 1-2 acres. Honduran Emeralds will aggressively defend their flower patches from other hummingbirds.
Hummingbirds have many specialized adaptations that allow them to hover and feed while in flight. One of the most unique is their ability to rotate their wings in a full 360 degrees. Other birds can only rotate their wings from front to back.
The Honduran Emerald shares these adaptations:
– Small size and lightweight – weighb only 4-6 grams, allowing them to hover using less energy. Their proportionally smaller wingspan provides the lift needed for hovering.
– Double shoulder joints – allows the full 360 rotation of their wings.
– Elongated wingtip feathers – provides lift and stabilization in slow, hovering flight.
– Rapid wing beats – up to 70 beats per second provides the necessary lift for sustained hovering.
– Inverted keeled breastbone – allows deeper flight muscles to attach, powering the more intense wing motions.
Reproduction and Life Cycle
The breeding season for the Honduran Emerald is between March and June during the dry season. The male will perform elaborate courtship displays, flying in u-shaped patterns and diving to impress the female.
Once paired, the female will build a small cup nest on a low horizontal branch, only 2-3 meters above ground. She constructs the nest out of plant down and spider webs, binding it together with saliva.
The female lays 2 tiny white eggs which she incubates alone for 15-18 days. The chicks hatch with eyes closed and almost no feathers. They develop quickly though, able to leave the nest in 20-26 days. The mother feeds the chicks with regurgitated food.
Conservation Status and Threats
The Honduran Emerald is classified as Near Threatened by the IUCN Red List. Its small geographic range and declining population puts it at risk.
The major threat facing this species is habitat loss due to deforestation. Logging, land clearing for agriculture, and human settlements are encroaching on its cloud forest habitat. The lowland forests the Honduran Emerald inhabits are most at risk.
Climate change is an additional threat, as the distributions of cloud forests may shift and shrink under warmer temperatures and reduced cloud cover. Introduced species and competition from more common hummingbird species may also impact native populations.
Protecting remaining forest habitat across Honduras is critical for the future survival of the Honduran Emerald. Ecotourism may help provide an incentive to protect forests while allowing appreciation of this unique hummingbird species. Maintaining habitat corridors between isolated populations will help ensure genetic diversity.
Given the emerald jewel-like plumage of the Honduran Emerald, it is easy to see why it is one of Central America’s most prized hummingbirds. Conserving its mountain forest habitat and raising awareness of this endangered species will be crucial in protecting its long-term survival. Its specialized adaptations and important role as pollinators make it an integral part of Honduras’ biodiversity. With thoughtful conservation measures, the Honduran Emerald can continue to glisten over the valleys and streams of Honduras for generations to come.