Learn about coquettes
This tiny bird barely reaches 8cm in length, including its tail, and belongs to the hummingbirds – a fascinating group of bird species that exhibit a wide range of unique behaviors and adaptations. While the rufous-crested coquette fortunately is not considered endangered, spotting one in the wild remains a rare occurrence. Despite their small size, they can be highly territorial and may even defend a single flower from other foragers such as bumble bees. Adaptive radiation however has enabled different hummingbird species to share resources without too high a level of competition. This can be observed in their bill diversity, which allows similar species to occupy different niches within the same habitat. Their bills have coevolved different morphologies in line with different flower shapes, enabling efficient foraging for nectar. The rufous-crested coquette forages easily on tubular shaped flowers with its bill fitting the flower’s shape perfectly. As with all hummingbirds, it then uses its tongue to sip on the nectar.
Hummingbirds are believed to have no sense of smell and are thus classified as visual foragers, relying on the bright colors of flowers to indicate a food source.
Rufous-crested coquettes in particular are able to seek out flowers with the highest sugar content, providing them with a high energy intake. Invertebrates such as fruit flies and small spiders make up a small portion of an adult hummingbird’s diet, providing them with protein, whereas chicks are fed predominantly on insects in order provide the nutrients for growth. The adaptations of a hummingbird’s bill towards flowers – sometimes being extremely long or curved, can make it difficult for them to feed on insects which is why they may snatch them out of the air whilst flying.
Hummingbirds not only possess the impressive ability to hover, but they are also the only birds able to fly backwards.
This opens up and facilitates many foraging methods and is made possible by utilizing a distinctive rotating wing motion, moving in a figure of eight. This particular flight technique combined with their low body weight enables some hummingbirds to reach impressive speeds of 50-100 kilometers per hour. In order to gain enough energy and keep up with their fast metabolism, these birds need to feed multiple times a day, ingesting up two times their body weight. The rufous-crested coquette is found throughout the tropical and subtropical west coast of Central to South America is an essential pollinator within its ecosystem. Like most pollinators, hummingbirds spread pollen from flower to flower whilst foraging for nectar. Many pollinators find it difficult to thrive in the wet, humid conditions which many hummingbird species inhabit, and in addition to this, insects such as butterflies and bees find it challenging to retrieve nectar from certain flower shapes to which hummingbird bills are highly adapted. This specialism means that the survival and propagation of these plant species in particular, may rely solely on pollination from hummingbirds that in turn greatly depend upon these.
The specialism of most hummingbirds towards a specific flower species is beneficial when the ecosystem is thriving however it also renders them incredibly vulnerable when habitat is degraded or destructed, and towards climate change.
If resource availability declines, there may not be alternatives for them to turn to and because of this, many hummingbird species are prone to population declines. While the rufous-crested coquette so far seems to be adequately resistant toward the destruction of forest habitat – possibly due it usually inhabiting woodland edges and clearings – many of its counterparts are much more vulnerable, facing possible extinction in the near future. Deforestation for agriculture, livestock, and illegal drug trade, as well as herbicide use and human development cause habitats to decline in both quantity and quality. The short-crested coquette in Mexico, the gorgeted puffleg in Colombia, and the black-breasted puffleg in Equador are just a few examples of species now being classified and listed as endangered on the IUCN red list (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) as a result of these human-induced threats. As so little is still known about these fast-paced birds, in order to conserve these species effectively, many conservation efforts are focused on gathering more data with respect to population trends and life history patterns. Ecotourism provides an incentive for local establishments to positively contribute to the preservation of endangered species. These conservation efforts are urgently needed, and many organisations offer easy ways for the general public to take part, volunteer, and offer support by sharing information on hummingbird observations such as population numbers and foraging activities. Additionally, placing feeders, and planting bright native flowering plant species in available spaces such as gardens, field edges and even roadsides may help in providing foraging opportunities for resident and migrating hummingbird species.
Species Fun Fact
The heart of hummingbirds beats incredibly fast, with over 1000 times per minute, compared to a human heart beat of 100 times per minute. This makes it difficult for hummingbirds to sleep , which is why they enter a hibernation like state called “torpor” during the night, allowing them to drop their heart rate. They furthermore have the highest metabolic rate in the animal kingdom and are able to slow it down when food resources are scarce
For reference, or to find out more please explore the following:
“The new neotropical companion“, by John Kricher
Altshuler, D.L. and Dudley, R., 2002. The ecological and evolutionary interface of hummingbird flight physiology. Journal of Experimental Biology, 205(16), pp.2325-2336.
All information was collected and up to date in 2020.