- Amethyst-throated Mountain-Gem Guide (Lampornis amethystinus) - November 24, 2022
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So many hummingbird species have striking plumage flecked with metallic hues of copper, gold, green, pink, blue, orange…okay, I might as well list the entire rainbow. They are so unassuming when the sunlight isn’t shining on them just right, but the minute it does, boom! A kaleidoscope of color glimmers and radiates through the sky or at your feeder.
The Amethyst-throated Mountaingem caught my attention because it has a generally dark appearance, unlike other hummingbirds, but its namesake amethyst-colored gorget contrasts so beautifully against its dark gray breast as the light catches the delicate feathers.
Taxonomy at a Glance
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Aves
- Order: Apodiformes
- Family: Trochilidae
- Genus: Lampornis
- Species: Lampornis amethystinus
The Amethyst-throated Mountaingem has five sub-species:
- L. a. amethystinus
- L. a. margaritae
- L. a. circumventris
- L. a. salvini
- L. a. nobilis
Hummingbirds are members of the order Apodiformes which encompasses swifts, tree swifts, and our lovely hummingbird, the Amethyst-throated Mountaingem. Hummingbirds are further classified under the family Trochilidae.
Trochilidae includes 361 species of hummingbirds across 113 genera. From the northernmost region of North America to the bottom tip of mainland South America, these speedy little birds add their beauty to the wilderness surrounding them.
42 million years ago, hummingbirds diverged from tree swifts and swifts, and the ancestor of the hummingbirds we know today has been traced back 22 million years. It’s hard to fathom a century ago, much less millions and millions of years ago.
You may have gathered that the name hummingbird is correlated to the humming or buzzing noise that accompanies the bird in flight. This would be a spot-on assumption. Humming is specifically generated by the upstrokes and downstrokes of each wingbeat. These rapid wingbeats are made possible by the elastic recoil of each wingstroke and the separate muscles for each upstroke and downstroke.
The supracoracoideus is the primary muscle for the upstroke, while the pectoralis major is the primary muscle for the downstroke. It makes a lot of sense that a bird that can fly forwards, backward, and upside down would have specific muscles driving that kind of skillfulness. It was discovered in 2017 that these muscles have a “mechanism for direct oxidation” of sugars to support the high metabolic rate needed to hover, migrate long distances, and forage at high altitudes.
The wings of a hummingbird flap at a rate of 12 beats per second for large species like the Giant Hummingbird and a rate of 80 beats per second for small species like the Bumblebee Hummingbird. Take a second and try to blink your eyes 12 times in one second. It’s truly impossible, and if you can do it, I’m sure you did not look as effortless as a hummingbird hovering while taking a sip of nectar.
This incredible ability means their metabolisms are the highest of any animal other than insects. This high metabolism is the key to their quick movement. Hummingbird hearts are also extremely impressive and can beat up to 1,260 beats per minute.
Amethyst-throated Mountaingems belong to the genus Lampornis. Mountaingems live in areas throughout the southwestern United States, spanning to the Isthmus of Panama.
You can identify species in the genus by their medium to large size, short tails, and curved black bills. Males will have green upper parts and a vibrant throat, while the females are a dull version of the male.
Other species within the Lampornis genus include:
- Blue-throated Mountaingem
- Green-throated Mountaingem
- Green-breasted Mountaingem
- Purple-throated Mountaingem
- White-throated Mountaingem
- Gray-tailed Mountaingem
- White-bellied Mountaingem
How to Identify an Amethyst-throated Mountaingem
The Amethyst-throated Mountaingem ranges from 4.5 inches long to 4.9 inches long, which is relatively large as far as hummingbirds go. For reference, the largest species in the United States, the Blue-throated Mountaingem, is 5 inches.
Males feature glimmering dark green crowns and backs with gray breasts and bellies. The throat of the male Amethyst-throated Mountaingem is bright purple when seen in the light. It may not be immediately visible depending on the angle of the bird.
Like most hummingbird species, the female displays a duller version of plumage. Females have similar green crowns and backs to males. Their breasts and bellies are dusty grays with pale wing coverts. Throats are cinnamon-colored, which varies in intensity across individuals.
Both male and female Amethyst-throated Mountaingems have broad, slightly forked tails with black and gray tipped plumage.
Juveniles appear similar to females before their sex-defining plumage begins to appear. An immature male will have lighter gray tips along his tail feathers. As the male ages, a few pink to purple feathers can sometimes be seen along the throat.
Where Does an Amethyst-Throated Mountaingem Live: Habitat
Amethyst-throated Mountaingems can be found across tropical and moist montane pine-oak and evergreen forests at elevations of 3,000 to 9,800 feet. Their chosen territory is primarily along the edge of the forest.
Depending on the subspecies, these birds can be found in various locations across Central America, including Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. There are a few occasional sightings in areas of Texas, but these are uncommon. Let’s take a closer look at the distribution of each subspecies.
- L. a. amethystinus– The nominate race of Amethyst-throated Mountaingem is found across western, central, and eastern Mexico.
- L. a. margarita– Commonly called Margaret’s/Violet-throated Hummingbird is found in the mountains of southwestern Mexico, including Michoacan, Jalisco, Guerrero, and western Oaxaca.
- L. a. circumventris– Primarily occurs throughout Sierra de Miahuatlán in southwestern Oaxaca.
- L. a. salvini– Found in the highlands of Chiapas in southern Mexico, Guatemala, and El Salvador.
- L. a. nobilis– Only occurs in the highlands of Honduras.
Amethyst-Throated Mountaingem Diet and Feeding
The mountaingem genus, Lampornis, is a nectarivorous species that prefer to feed on small flowers. Insects are also an essential component of most hummingbirds’ diets.
Due to their high metabolisms, hummingbirds must visit nearly 2,000 flowers daily and consume about 1,000 insects. This high demand for energy means they must eat about every 10 minutes.
When sourcing nectar, the Amethyst-throated Mountaingem scans flowers in a low to high order and partakes in a feeding strategy called trap-lining. Trap-lining is when the hummingbird visits favorable food sources in a regular and repeated sequence. Other species are known for heavily guarding a specific patch of flowers against other birds, large insects, and even bees.
Hummingbirds have flexible beaks that are shaped depending on the available flowers in their range. This adaptation benefits both the bird and the flower because hummingbirds can act as pollinators for flowers.
The tongue of a hummingbird is used as a micropump. The tongue is a semicircular tube that draws in nectar at a rate of 14 milliseconds per lick and up to 20 licks per second. Is your mind blown yet?
Amethyst-throated Mountaingems will commonly forage insects on tree trunks, branches, and leaves. Gleaning, or catching insects mid-flight, is also a common hunting strategy.
Suitable protein-rich insects include ants, fruit flies, gnats, beetles, mites, mosquitoes, spiders, and wasps. Hummingbirds will also visit nearby spiderwebs to steal captured insects from the spider.
Hummingbird Food Recipe
When choosing to feed hummingbirds in your area, it’s important to learn the dos and don’ts of hummingbird feeders and nectar. This section aims to teach you the basics so you may safely offer hummingbirds a regular feeding area.
The go-to hummingbird nectar recipe is as follows:
- Mix four parts hot or boiling tap water with one part refined white sugar
- Stir the mixture until the sugar has dissolved completely
- Let the mixture reach room temperature before filling clean hummingbird feeders.
- Store any additional nectar in the refrigerator for up to 7 days.
It is crucial to note the key ingredient in this recipe is refined white sugar. Do not use brown sugar, confectioners sugar, honey, agave, raw sugar, or sugar substitutes. Additionally, do not add red food coloring to the nectar. The red accents on your hummingbird feeder are plenty to attract them, and dye can cause illness.
Avoid commercial hummingbird foods. These offerings are really just scams aimed at getting you to purchase a plastic gallon of sugar water at a significant markup. Commercial foods are notorious for including unnecessary additives and coloring that are harmful to hummingbirds. Stick to the DIY recipe and save yourself money while saving hummingbird lives.
Hummingbird Feeders: Care and Maintenance
Hummingbird feeders are welcomed and appreciated greatly by hummingbirds, even if they don’t show it. My hummingbirds show it by zooming past my window and stalking me around my camper until I replenish their precious sugar water.
Hummingbird feeders come in two different styles: inverted bottle feeders and saucer feeders. If you’re new to feeding the hummers, here’s a quick description and a few considerations for each style.
Inverted bottle feeders can typically hold large quantities of nectar and work by screwing a base onto a bottle filled with nectar. The bottle is then turned upside down, and gravity sends the nectar into the basin. This can be a sticky process if you overfill the feeder.
Saucer feeders are exactly what they sound like. A small saucer that is filled with nectar. A lid with feeding ports is screwed onto the top, and hummers utilize their long tounges to take a drink. This is a far less messy design, but saucer feeders can usually only hold 16 ounces of nectar, while inverted bottle feeders can hold twice that amount.
Harmful Hummingbird Feeder Habits
Dirty and poorly cared-for hummingbird feeders are listed as one of the top killers of these birds. When you neglect your feeder, you promote diseases, infections, and other avoidable threats.
- Candidiasis is a fungal tongue infection that occurs in hummingbirds when honey is used instead of refined white sugar. When a hummingbird contracts this infection, it becomes difficult to eat. This often leads to death due to poor nutrition. Candidiasis is also contracted when water sources are not maintained or from consuming too much sugar. This is why it is essential to keep bird baths clean and to always use the 1:4 ratio when making nectar.
- Avian Poxvirus is a disease transmitted from feeders, water stations, and perches that are contaminated. This painful disease gives birds sores on their beaks, legs, eyelids, feet, and mouths for 10 to 14 days.
- Fermented nectar harbors mold, bacteria, and fungus. Once vital sugars become a poisonous concoction from sitting in the sun for too long.
Feeder Maintenance Tips
Harmful conditions can be easily avoided by following a few maintenance guidelines. This is especially important for species such as the Amethyst-throated Mountaingem, that live in warm climates.
- Clean feeders weekly with hot tap water. You may use a mild vinegar solution, but avoid using dish soaps as they can leave behind residues that may be harmful. Take all feeder components apart and use a bottle brush to scrub all the pieces adequately. Rinse the feeder thoroughly and allow it to dry before refilling it with fresh nectar.
- Change hummingbird nectar regularly according to the temperature.
- 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit – change nectar every 5 to 6 days
- 81 to 88 degrees Fahrenheit – change nectar every 3 to 4 days
- 88 to 92 degrees Fahrenheit – change nectar every 2 days
- 93 to 100+ degrees Fahrenheit – change nectar daily
- Bring feeders inside during intense heat and place them in an area with partial shade. Direct sunlight and heat ferment the sugar and make the nectar unsafe for consumption. Additionally, bring feeders inside when temperatures are freezing and put them back out around dawn.
Amethyst-Throated Mountaingem Breeding
Amethyst-throated Mountaingems have similar breeding behaviors to most other species of hummingbirds. Males engage in courtship activities by performing impressive aerial dives in which they climb upwards of 100 feet and dive in a “U” formation.
Nearby females watch groups of males perform before choosing one or more to mate with. Males may also mate with several different females. This is the most the pair will interact together throughout the breeding season. From there, females go through the rest of the season alone.
Amethyst-Throated Mountaingem Nesting
Females choose a nesting site and get to work building a fine cup. Nests are small and are located about 5 to 8 feet on a drooping branch of a tree. The nest is composed of plant fibers, animal hair and down, grass, and leaves.
Once the female has constructed her nesting cup, it is about 1.5 to 2 inches wide. She then collects spider webbing to cover the nest with. This allows the nest to expand as her chicks hatch and grow. It’s truly genius. After the spider webbing is attached, small bits of moss and lichen are added to the nest’s exterior to give it a camouflage effect.
Amethyst-Throated Mountaingem Eggs
Anywhere from 1 to 3, small white oval eggs are laid and incubated for 11 to 18 days. The eggs must remain around 96 degrees Fahrenheit to hatch. After hatching, mom feeds the chicks constantly, and she diligently removes fecal sacs from the nest to reduce the lure of predators looking for a helpless meal. Fledging takes place 18 to 28 days after hatching.
Amethyst-Throated Mountaingem Population & Status
The Internation Union for Conservation of Nature rates the Amethyst-throated Mountaingem as a species of Least Concern. The population size is unknown, but there have been no significant threats to indicate that the population is declining.
Survival Skills: Torpor and Hummingbirds
While hummingbirds have so many impressive abilities, torpor is truly one of nature’s marvels. Torpor is a lesser-known superpower that every hummingbird species is capable of. Torpor involves slowing down the metabolism, heart rate, breathing rate, and body temperature during the night or when food is scarce.
This conserves energy from dropping to critical levels. There does not seem to be a correlation between nighttime temperatures and whether a hummingbird enters torpor, so your chances of witnessing this phenomenon occur year-round.
When a hummingbird makes the decision to flip the torpor switch, they look for a safe space to rest. This is usually a branch or hummingbird feeder from which they hang upside down. They will also fluff their feathers out to provide extra warmth to their bodies. There is something insanely adorable about a fluffy hummingbird. Just Google it!
Heart rates of 1,000 beats per minute or higher are reduced to 50 to 180 beats per minute. Body temperatures are reduced from 104 degrees Fahrenheit to 38 degrees Fahrenheit. Kidney function declines during torpor to prevent dehydration and conserve nutrients and glucose.
While some hummingbirds may not recover from the 2 to 13 hours spent in this hibernation-like state, others are just fine upon waking up. It takes anywhere from 1 to 4 hours for the hummingbird to recover from the grogginess and raise its body temperature before it zooms away to source food. Corticosterone is a primary hormone that aids the hummingbird’s recovery from this near-death state. As the bird regains function, sourcing food is their top priority.
Amethyst-Throated Mountaingem Predators
Hummingbird predators are a strange list of creatures. From praying mantises to dragonflies, frogs, and spiders. Adult hummingbirds must be wary of predators like the praying mantis at feeders and stay vigilant that larger birds such as owls, hawks, and kites don’t snag them from a perch.
Although it is rare, frogs have been observed attacking hummingbirds that stopped for a drink of water. Other predators like snakes, raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks, and corvids pose a great threat to nestlings and eggs.
Amethyst-Throated Mountaingem Lifespan
Hummingbirds live for an impressively long time considering their small size and list of predators. It is common across many species of birds to die during the first year of life, and hummingbirds are no exception. Harsh survival conditions accompanied by increased vulnerability as a newly fledged hummer may leave to the inevitable. Of course, this is a tragedy, but on the other hand, some hummingbirds have been recorded to live as long as a decade.
Answer: The Amethyst-throated Mountaingem features a vibrant purple gorget that can be seen glimmering in the sun. At certain angles, the gorget may appear black. Wait patiently for the right movement to allow the plumage to be illumated by the light.
Answer: The Amethyst-throated Mountaingem can be found across Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras.
Answer: A few different species of hummingbirds have purple-colored gorget or throat patches. Among them is the Amethyst-throated Mountaingem. Others include Costa’s Hummingbird and Anna’s Hummingbird.
Answer: Amethyst-throated Mountaingems are common throughout their range. Look for them in tropical montane forests at elevations of 3,000 to 9,000 feet. They prefer humid habitats and live along the edges of evergreen and pine-oak forests.