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A photo of a Long-billed Starthroat (Heliomaster longirostris)
Long-billed Starthroat

Long-billed Starthroat

Heliomaster longirostris

The Long-billed Starthroat, known scientifically as Heliomaster longirostris, is a captivating species of hummingbird belonging to the "mountain gems" tribe Lampornithini within the subfamily Trochilinae. This bird is easily recognized by its elongated, nearly straight black bill and a distinctive white spot located just behind the eye.

Identification Tips

Adult males of the Long-billed Starthroat boast a glittering blue to greenish-blue crown, with the rest of the upperparts presenting a dark bronzy green, save for a white stripe down the center of the rump. The face is marked by a black area below the crown and a white malar stripe beneath the black. The tail is relatively short and square-tipped, with bronzy green feathers near the body transitioning to black, and the outer feathers tipped in white. The chin is black, the gorget a dark metallic purple, the breast gray with bronzy green flanks, and the lower breast and belly a dull white. Females are similar but with a less pronounced blue crown and a narrower, dusky gray gorget.

Habitat

The Long-billed Starthroat inhabits a variety of humid semi-open landscapes, including woodland edges, isolated woodlands, pastures with trees, gallery forests, and secondary forests. It avoids the interiors of dense forests, preferring the lowlands and foothills up to elevations of approximately 1,500 meters.

Distribution

This species is found from Mexico and Central America, extending through Trinidad and into South America, excluding the four southernmost countries. It is divided into three subspecies, with H. l. pallidicepts in the north, the nominate H. l. longirostris being the most widespread, and H. l. albicrissa in a restricted range within western Ecuador and northwestern Peru.

Behaviour

The Long-billed Starthroat exhibits erratic and poorly understood movements, seemingly in response to the flowering cycles of various plant communities.

Song & calls

The vocal repertoire of the Long-billed Starthroat includes a rich liquid 'tseep' or 'tsew' and squeaky twitters, the latter often heard during aerial chases.

Breeding

Breeding occurs from the late wet season into the early dry season in the northern parts of its range, with two broods per season observed in Central America. The nest is a shallow cup made of plant down, moss, and liverworts, bound together with spider silk and adorned with lichen. It is typically placed on a shrub branch or even on a telephone wire, 4.5 to 12 meters above ground. The female incubates the two white eggs for 18 to 19 days, with fledging occurring 25 to 26 days post-hatch.

Diet and Feeding

The Long-billed Starthroat feeds on nectar from the flowers of large trees, vines, shrubs, and Heliconia, employing both trap-lining and defending strategies. It also consumes small insects, capturing them mid-flight or by gleaning from vegetation.

Conservation status

The IUCN has classified the Long-billed Starthroat as Least Concern, with a very large range and a population of at least 500,000 mature individuals. Despite a suspected population decline, no immediate threats have been identified. The species is considered uncommon but is found in several protected areas and seems to tolerate, if not thrive in, disturbed habitats with remaining scattered trees and groves.

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