The violet-headed hummingbird (Klais guimeti) is a relatively large hummingbird found in the tropical forests of Central and South America. With its vibrant violet crown and white underside, it is one of the most colorful hummingbird species. In this article, we will explore the key identification features, habitat, diet, courtship behaviors, and current conservation status of this eye-catching bird.
The most noticeable feature of the violet-headed hummingbird is the male’s brilliant violet cap extending from the base of its bill to the nape of its neck. The forehead and crown are a deep bluish violet or purple color. When the light hits just right, the crown may appear more blue.
The plumage on the upperparts is mostly green, with the back and tail coverts being a bronzy green. The tail is forked and steel blue. The underparts are white from the throat to the undertail coverts. The flanks are washed with green. The bill is long, straight, and black. The eyes are dark brown. Females lack the violet crown and are more grayish-green above with white tips on the tail feathers. The outer tail feathers are rufous-tipped. Immature birds resemble adult females but have buffy bands on the undertail coverts.
Compared to other hummingbird species, the violet-headed hummingbird is relatively large, measuring 11–12 cm (4.3–4.7 in) in length with a wingspan of 5.7–6.3 cm (2.2–2.5 in). Identifying features besides the male’s brilliant crown include the white underparts that contrast sharply with the colorful back and head, and the distinctly forked blue tail.
Habitat and Distribution
The violet-headed hummingbird is found from Mexico south to Peru, Bolivia and central Brazil in South America. Its habitat primarily consists of tropical and subtropical moist broadleaf forests, plantations, and gardens.
This species occurs at elevations up to 1000 m, but is most numerous in foothill zones between 500-800 m. It prefers forest edges, clearings, parks, and can also adapt to urban areas. The violet-headed hummingbird is a year-round resident within its range.
Diet and Feeding
Like all hummingbirds, the violet-headed hummingbird has a fast metabolism and relies on eating frequent small meals. It feeds on nectar from a variety of flowering plants such as lobelia, besleria, and epiphytic herbs. Spider webs may also provide an important source of protein and minerals.
The bird uses its specialized long bill to drink nectar from flowers while hovering in mid-air. Its wings beat approximately 70 times per second. The tongue is forked which allows it to lap up nectar quickly. Insects are also sometimes caught in flight to provide essential amino acids. Common prey includes mosquitoes, flies, beetles, and aphids.
Reproduction and Breeding
The breeding season of the violet-headed hummingbird varies across its range. In Costa Rica and Panama, breeding takes place between March and June. Courtship displays begin in February when the males perform aerial displays to attract females.
Males fly in repeated arcs above the canopy, diving and rising while making buzzing and popping sounds with their tail feathers. The males also vocalize short chirps. Females may be approached directly by males performing swooping display flights.
The female constructs a small cup nest on a low horizontal branch, often overhanging water. The nest is made of plant down bound with spider silk on the exterior and lined with soft plant fibers. Lichens and bark pieces may be used for camouflage on the outside of the nest. The female incubates the two tiny white eggs for 15-19 days.
The chicks are fed regurgitated food by the female. They leave the nest at around 20-26 days old. The female continues to feed the fledged chicks for a few days after leaving the nest.
The violet-headed hummingbird has a very large range estimated at 1,800,000 km2. The global population has not been quantified but the species is described as fairly common in most of its range. However, some populations may be in decline. The main threats are likely habitat loss and degradation.
It does adapt to gardens and urban areas, which affords some resilience. However, it can disappear from sites after forest clearing. The species is currently evaluated as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. More research into its population trends across its range is needed. Gardens, parks, and protected forests help provide refuge for this colorful hummingbird.
With its vibrant plumage and aerial courtship displays, the violet-headed hummingbird is truly one of nature’s flying jewels. This fairly large hummingbird species is a resident of tropical forests in Central and South America, where it plays an important role as a pollinator for native plants. Its specialized adaptations for hover-feeding on nectar have allowed it to thrive in forest and urban areas alike. While still reasonably common, habitat loss is a threat and its current population status should continue to be monitored. The striking violet-crowned male exemplifies the dazzling diversity found in hummingbirds.