The Rufous-webbed Brilliant (Heliodoxa branickii) is a medium-sized hummingbird found in tropical South America. With its glittering gorget and bright rufous plumage, this species lives up to its common name.
The Rufous-webbed Brilliant measures around 11-12 cm (4.3-4.7 in) in length. As its name suggests, the plumage is mostly rufous overall, with a bright crimson throat gorget on the males. The belly is white and the tail is rufous with white tips. The bill is long, straight and black.
Males have a beautiful metallic crimson gorget that glitters in the sunlight. The upperparts are rufous-brown and the wing coverts are rufous with pale fringes. The median and greater coverts have white tips, creating a spotted pattern. The outer tail feathers are broadly tipped white.
Females lack the brilliant gorget, instead having greenish upperparts and grey underparts with green spots on the throat. The tail pattern is similar to the male. Juveniles resemble adult females but have buff edging to the body plumage.
Distribution and Habitat
The Rufous-webbed Brilliant is found from eastern Colombia to southern Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and far northern Brazil. Its natural habitats are humid lowland and foothill forests, forest edges and second growth.
This species typically occurs at elevations up to 1000 m in foothill areas. It has a patchy distribution across its range. In some areas it is considered fairly common, while absent or rare elsewhere within its range.
The Rufous-webbed Brilliant lives solitarily or in pairs. It is somewhat slow and deliberate while feeding, but can be aggressive in defending flower or fruit resources.
This hummingbird gets most of its food from flowers, feeding on nectar by hovering in front of the blossoms and extending its tongue. It also takes small insects and spiders as an important source of protein.
One interesting behavior is that the Rufous-webbed Brilliant sometimes steals insects from spider webs, carefully removing the prey from the web without getting stuck itself. It gleans insects from leaves and branches by sight. This species will also visit flowers of banana plants to feed on the nectar.
Breeding occurs in the rainy season between May and August. The male performs courtship flights to attract a female, flying back and forth in wide U-shaped patterns.
The nest is a small cup built by the female, made of plant down and fibers bound with spider silk. It is attached to a downward hanging leaf or frond 2-4 m above the ground.
The female lays two white eggs. She incubates them alone for 15-19 days until they hatch. The chicks are fed by the female and fledge after about 20-26 days.
The Rufous-webbed Brilliant is evaluated as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. Its population appears to be stable and it has a wide distribution.
However, some localized declines have been noted, particularly in Colombia. Threats include habitat loss and degradation from agriculture, logging and mining activities. Climate change may also pose a long-term threat.
More research is needed to better understand population trends across its range. But currently the Rufous-webbed Brilliant is not considered globally threatened. Protecting humid lowland forest habitat will benefit this beautiful hummingbird species.
With its glittering crimson gorget and rufous plumage, the aptly named Rufous-webbed Brilliant is a jewel of South America’s avifauna. While globally secure, some populations are declining due to habitat loss. Further research and habitat conservation will help ensure the continued survival of this special hummingbird.