The White-crested Coquette (Lophornis adorabilis) is a small hummingbird found in South America. With an average body length of 7-8 cm and weight of 3-4 grams, it is one of the smallest hummingbird species in the world. The male has distinctive white crest feathers on its head, glossy green upperparts, and a red throat patch. The female lacks the crest and has duller plumage overall.
The white-crested coquette inhabits tropical and subtropical forests, woodlands, gardens, and plantations. Its range extends along the eastern Andes from Venezuela to Bolivia and southern Brazil. It occurs at elevations from sea level up to 1200 m.
This speciesfeeds on nectar taken from a variety of flowering plants, including shrubs, vines, and epiphytes. Some favorite nectar sources include species in the genera Costus, Heliconia, and Inga. The long bill and extendable tongue are adapted for accessing nectar from long, tubular flowers. White-crested coquettes play an important role as pollinators of these plants. They also take small arthropods to supplement their diet.
White-crested coquettes are aggressive and territorial, defending feeding areas from intruders. Males perform elaborate courtship displays, flying in u-shaped patterns to impress females. The breeding season coincides with peaks in flower abundance. Females build tiny cup nests out of plant fibers, usually on a vertical surface 2-5 m above ground. Two white eggs are laid, and the female alone incubates them for 15-19 days. Chicks fledge after about 20-26 days.
The white-crested coquette has a wide distribution and large total population. Its numbers appear to be stable, and it is evaluated as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. Habitat loss is the major threat, as forests are cleared for agriculture and development. The popularity of hummingbird feeders and gardens has benefited this species. As long as sufficient natural habitat remains, its future prospects seem good.
The white-crested coquette exhibits marked sexual dimorphism. Adult males have brilliant green upperparts and white underparts. A bushy white crest adorns the top of the head. The face and throat are glittering crimson. The tail is blackish with white outer corners. Females are similar but lack the ornate crest and have greenish-gray underparts, smaller red throat patch, and more white on the tail corners. The long, slender bill is black in both sexes. Males measure 7-8 cm from bill tip to tail tip with a 1.5 cm wingspan. Females are slightly larger at 8-9 cm in length. Body mass ranges from 3-4.5 g.
Behavior and Ecology
The white-crested coquette is a restless and acrobatic flyer. It can hover in place by rapidly beating its wings, as well as fly backwards and upside-down. It has various vocalizations including sharp cheeps and buzzing notes. Males are highly territorial, using dramatic display flights to advertise territory ownership and evict intruders. If a territorial dispute escalates, opponents may grasp each other in mid-air and spiral downwards while clawing and pecking.
This species spends the majority of its time feeding on nectar at flowers throughout the territory. It visits many blossoms in quick succession, using its slim shape to probe into flower corollas. Periodically it perches to rest. Unlike larger hummingbirds, white-crested coquettes do not defend concentrated, long-term feeding territories. Their small size enables them to survive on more patchily distributed, ephemeral food resources. They occassionally supplement their nectar diet by hawking small insects in flight.
White-crested coquettes may breed solitarily but are sometimes loosely colonial. Courting males perform dive displays, rising up 10 m or more before diving back down past the female in a u-shaped arc. If receptive, the female may then copulate with the male. After mating, the female alone builds a tiny cup nest out of plant down, spider webs, and lichens. It is attached to a vertical twig or fern frond 2-5 m up in thick vegetation. The eggs are small and white. Incubation lasts 15-19 days, and fledging occurs at 20-26 days old. Parents do not feed the young once they leave the nest.
Taxonomy and Evolution
The white-crested coquette is classified in the hummingbird family Trochilidae and placed in the subfamily Trochilinae. Its genus Lophornis contains several other ornamented coquette species. This genus belongs to the brush-finch subclade, along with other hummingbird genera containing hermits and woodstars. DNA evidence suggests Lophornis diverged from its closest relatives around 15 million years ago when flower specialization was evolving.
There are three recognized subspecies of the white-crested coquette:
L. a. adorabilis – nominate, occurs in Colombia and Venezuela
L. a. magnificus – larger with more white on tail, occurs in southeast Brazil.
L. a. aurulentus – more golden green on crest, occurs in Peru and Bolivia.
The species epithet adorabilis refers to its charming and delightful appearance. No fossil species are known, but hummingbirds in general have a sparse fossil record. The diversity and ornamentation of coquettes and their relatives likely co-evolved with specialized flowering plants in South America.
With its scintillating colors and energetic disposition, the tiny white-crested coquette is a jewel of the hummingbird family. While displaying territorial behavior, it also plays an integral role as a pollinator for tropical flowers. This delicate but feisty species has adapted to thrive among blossoming trees and shrubs across much of South America. As forests disappear, however, its future may depend on conservation of its natural habitat. If protected, this delightful hummingbird will continue to adorn its range with beauty and wonder.