The swordtail hummingbird is the only bird in the world to have a beak longer than its body!


Photo credit: Andy Morffew

Do you know the swordtail hummingbird? It is a particularly remarkable species of hummingbird which is distinguished by its extraordinarily long and thin beak, resembling a dagger blade, hence its name “swordtail”. This unique bill is adapted to reach nectar from long-tubed flowers, giving the swordtail hummingbird a dietary advantage in accessing food sources that other hummingbirds might have difficulty reaching. Let’s discover together the characteristics of this unusual bird.

The swordtail hummingbird: an extraordinary bird!

It is, among the hummingbird species, one of the largest, measuring between 22 and 25 centimeters. There are 14 centimeters for the body and tail and at least 8 centimeters for the beak. It is the only bird species in the world to have a beak longer than its body.

From its scientific name Ensifera ensifera, this bird is native to Central and South America and weighs on average 12 grams.

Its plumage is predominantly green and iridescent, tending towards olive green especially at the level of the head. The tail and wings are reddish-brown in color and there is a white spot behind the eye. The long bill of the swordtail hummingbird is gray, narrow and slightly curved upwards and allows it to reach flowers with deep corollas to feed on their nectar. It also plays an important and crucial role in the pollination of plants and therefore in the ecosystem.

Like most hummingbirds, the swordtail is very agile in flight and can fly backwards, sideways, or hovering. Its rapid flight and agile movements are fascinating to observe.

A long beak to explore inaccessible flowers

Having an extraordinarily long and slender beak gives the swordtail hummingbird specific feeding habits linked to its morphology.

Indeed, its beak allows it to exploit flowers with deep corollas or long tubes, which have reserves of nectar at the bottom, inaccessible to many other birds. But thanks to its elongated beak, the swordtail hummingbird reaches these food sources inaccessible to other species.

This specific morphology makes it a specialist in flowers with deep corollas, which gives it privileged access to these nectar reserves and gives it a competitive advantage when feeding in environments where these flowers are abundant. The swordtail hummingbird expends a lot of energy to maintain a high metabolism, so its diet is supplemented with insects or other small creatures in order to have the nutrients necessary for survival.

The swordsman hummingbird thus plays an essential role in the pollination of specific flowering plants and thus promotes their reproduction. Its feeding behavior has a direct impact on the diversity and health of the ecosystem.

The aerial acrobatics of the swordtail hummingbird

This long beak in no way prevents it from flying with recognized agility and speed: its wing beats can reach up to 80 beats per second, which allows it exceptional agility and speed. It is, moreover, capable of flying backwards, hovering but also of moving vertically and laterally with great precision, which is very useful for reaching flowers with long tubes or deep corollas of n any orientation!

These acrobatics also allow it to avoid obstacles and fly easily in complex environments, an essential asset for searching for food and defending its territory.

The swordtail hummingbird: a symbol of beauty and agility

The shimmering, vibrant colors of the Swordsman Hummingbird make this bird a captivating visual spectacle! With their iridescent hues that change from green to blue, without forgetting a little purple, it’s just magnificent to see them flying around the flowers.

Its rapid flight is also a spectacle in itself, as its movements are agile and are carried out in all directions.

Its sword-shaped beak is a unique evolutionary characteristic allowing the bird to access the nectar of flowers inaccessible to other species and thus be able to pollinate these flowering plants.

Here we realize the essential role of the swordtail hummingbird in preserving the environment and its importance in the ecosystem. Without forgetting that it is also a true symbol of natural beauty, a beauty to be preserved!

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