The velvet-purple coronet (Boissonneaua jardini) is a species of hummingbird found in Colombia and Ecuador. With its vibrant, shimmering plumage in hues of violet and purple, it is one of the most beautiful and distinctive hummingbirds in the world. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at this amazing bird, including its appearance, habitat, diet, breeding behaviors, conservation status, and why it has captured the fascination of birders and nature enthusiasts.
The velvet-purple coronet is relatively small, measuring just 3.5-4 inches in length. The most striking feature of this hummingbird is its colorful plumage. The male has a brilliant purple crown and throat, with a black mask across the eyes and bill. The breast is a sparkling violet or magenta. The upperparts are golden olive-green, while the belly and undertail are white. In the proper lighting, the plumage shimmers and glistens. The female is similar, but less vibrant, with golden olive upperparts, a pale gray throat and breast, and white underside. Juveniles resemble adult females.
This species gets its name from the unique rounded crest on top of the head. It resembles a coronet, a small crown worn by nobility. The straight black bill is adapted for drinking nectar. Like all hummingbirds, the velvet-purple coronet has tiny feet that are used primarily for perching rather than walking or hopping. In flight, this bird displays relatively rounded wings and a moderately forked tail. Its wingbeats are rapid, allowing it to hover in place as it feeds on flowers.
Habitat and Distribution
The velvet-purple coronet is endemic to a small region of northwestern South America. Its breeding range is confined to southwest Colombia and northwest Ecuador, in cloud forest and elfin forest habitats at elevations between 6,500-9,500 ft. This range coincides with the Chocó-Darién moist forests ecoregion, known for its incredible biodiversity.
These hummingbirds occupy mature, untouched evergreen and mountain rainforests. They prefer habitats with an abundance of flowering plants, thick vegetation, and a humid climate. Within these forests, velvet-purple coronets are often found along forest edges, clearings, roadsides, and streams. They may venture into gardens or parklands adjacent to their preferred forest habitat. Due to their specialized habitat needs, the species has a relatively limited global population and distribution.
Diet and Feeding
Like all hummingbirds, the velvet-purple coronet feeds on flower nectar and tiny insects. Its specialized bill and extended tongue allow it to access nectar deep within tubular tropical flowers. Typical food plants include shade-loving vines, epiphytes, and shrubs that bloom in the forest understory. These include plants from genera such as Bomarea, Drymonia, Gloxinia, and Fuchsia. The birds use their bills to pierce the base of flowers for nectar. They may also hawk flying insects, capturing them in midair.
Velvet-purple coronets have high metabolic rates and must feed frequently to fuel their energetic hovering flight. They feed every 10-15 minutes throughout the day, visiting hundreds of flowers daily and consuming up to double their weight in nectar each day. If flowers are scarce, they may sip sap from holes drilled in trees by woodpeckers. Like other tropical hummingbirds, they are important pollinators for many rainforest plant species as they transfer pollen from flower to flower.
Breeding and Nesting
The breeding season for the velvet-purple coronet runs from March through June. Males perform elaborate courtship flights to impress potential mates, flying in u-shaped patterns while making whistling and popping sounds with their tails. Once paired, the female builds a small cup nest out of soft plant fibers, spider webs, and lichens. The nest is only about 1.5 inches wide and may be decorated externally with moss for camouflage. It is situated on a low fern or tree branch, often overhanging a stream.
The female lays just two tiny white eggs. She incubates them alone for about 16-19 days. The chicks hatch with eyes closed and almost no down. Both parents feed the chicks with regurgitated insects and nectar. After 22-26 days, the young leave the nest and quickly become independent.
Threats and Conservation Status
Due to its limited distribution and specialized habitat needs, the velvet-purple coronet is considered Near Threatened by the IUCN Red List. Forest loss from logging, agriculture, roads, and urbanization has reduced and fragmented its natural habitat. Climate change may also impact hummingbird-pollinated plants. However, some key protected areas exist within its range, including Tatamá National Park in Colombia. More preservation of primary rainforest habitats will be crucial for the long-term survival of this species.
Eco-tourism and birdwatching may also benefit velvet-purple coronet conservation. Tourists flock to see its dazzling plumage and interesting behaviors within protected reserves. With proper regulation, such activities could raise awareness and funding for protecting critical habitats. Nonetheless, habitat disturbance from human visitors must be limited, especially around sensitive nesting areas in the breeding season.
With its shimmering violet plumage and energetic flight, the velvet-purple coronet is truly one of the most striking and beautiful hummingbirds in the world. This South American endemic faces threats from habitat loss and climate change, but also benefits from some protected areas and ecotourism interest. Further conservation of its remaining old-growth cloud forest habitat will be key to ensuring the survival of this unique species into the future. Though small, the brilliant velvet-purple coronet reminds us of nature’s incredible diversity, especially in tropical rainforests like those of Colombia and Ecuador.