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The green-breasted mango is a neotropical hummingbird and a particular favorite of mine. Despite their extensive range and relatively large population, they are not a common sight. This is because the green-breasted mango is an explorer!
This species of hummingbird is not migratory. However, it is known to travel large distances to scope out new habitats and food sources. They form distinct, localized populations throughout their range. This creates small pockets of green-breasted mangos that often require a local expert to find. I have personally witnessed that the green-breasted mango can adventure to previously unknown regions such as the Osa Peninsula and even Texas!
The females and juveniles of the species are particularly distinct in appearance from other hummingbirds. Making it a great bird to cross off your list. Of course, it also gives you an excuse to visit a tropical country- nothing wrong with that!
- Scientific Name: Anthracothorax prevostii
- Sub-family: Polytminae
- Size: 5 in (13 cms)
- Coloration: Green, Blue, Black, White, and Purple
- Range: Mexico to Costa Rica, Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador.
- Habitat: Lowland forest edges, gardens, mangroves, orchards, and open woodlands.
- Diet: Nectar and Insects
- Vocalizations: “TSUP” and “KAZICK-KAZEE”
Evolution and Taxonomy
The green-breasted mango is part of the sub-family Polytminae. The name “Mangos” has been suggested for the entire subfamily, although the group includes other hummingbirds such as fairies, lancebills, and violetears. All members of the subfamily share a fascinating trait- small serrations on the cutting edge of the bill. It is thought that this adaptation in hummingbirds may allow for improved gripping of insects.
In 2019, there was some media fuss about “warrior hummingbirds evolving teeth.” If you actually take a look at the research paper, you will find that this is not entirely accurate. In one small part of this detailed study, researchers suggest that some hummingbird species have slightly stiffer, backward-facing serrations, which may be used for biting. The paper is mostly about the various kinds of nectar sipping mechanisms in hummingbirds. Which is fascinating to me but probably not a sexy enough title for Fox News.
There are seven species of mango, all within the genus Anthracothorax. From recent DNA and molecular phylogenetic studies, we now know that the genus Eulampis contains extremely close relatives of the mangos. Many updated taxonomic trees have the genera nested together. The members of both genera have unfeathered tarsi and decurved (downwardly curving) bills.
How to Spot a Green-breasted Mango
These iridescent green hummingbirds can be a little tricky to identify depending on the region of the world you are in. They are approximately 5 inches (13 cm) long and have a slightly decurved bill. Both males and females have green upper parts and white on the underside of the wings.
Male green-breasted mangos have striking tail feathers that can be red-wine colored, maroon, or deep magenta. In females and juveniles, tails have white tips and may also have some dark blue parts.
Males have a green chest, with a deep blue-black stripe running down the center of the throat and breast. This “stripe” can appear more like a gradient of color in some individuals. For females and juveniles, the black stripe is unmistakable. It runs the entire length of the chest and is surrounded by white underparts. In juveniles, the chest and throat are also bordered by two burnt orange stripes.
Green-breasted mangos are most commonly confused with the veraguan mango, the black-throated mango, and the rufous-tailed hummingbird. The rufous-tailed hummingbird does not have any purples or bright reds in its tail- it is entirely rufous- so that should have you covered.
If you are anywhere north of Costa Rica, the veraguan mango and the black-throated mango are not an option, so you should be pretty confident there. In Costa Rica and Panama, things get a little more tricky as the range of these species may overlap. The main differences from the green-breasted mango are as follows:
In males, the median stripe is more obviously blue instead of blue-black. In females and juveniles, the median stripe is dark green instead of black.
Males have much more black underparts rather than the graduated green-blue-black of the green-breasted mango. In females, the green-breasted mango has green upper parts with a distinct copper tone. The black-throated mango lacks this feature.
Green-breasted mangos call out with high-pitched “tsup” and a buzzing “kazick-kazee.”
What do Green-breasted Mangos Eat?
As with most hummingbirds, green-breasted mangos feed primarily on nectar, followed by insects such as mosquitos, gnats, and fruit flies. The plants favored by green-breasted mangos are:
I’ve also seen these hummingbirds chow down on a variety of flowers, including purple and pink porterweed, heliconias, and even air plants.
Green-breasted mangos will often snatch small insects from the air or from the leaves of plants. They are also known to be kleptoparasites, which means that they raid spiderwebs for yummy snacks. This can be a hazardous behavior. Some spiders, such as the golden-orb weaver, have incredibly strong webs (I have seen a golden orb spider catch a bat). If they are not careful, hummingbirds can become entangled in the spider web and are unable to escape.
Where to Find the Green-breasted Mango
The range of the green-breasted mango extends from Southern Mexico to Costa Rica. There are two additional populations of green-breasted mango in South America. One along the northern coast of Venezuela and Colombia. Another is in Ecuador and the northernmost tip of Peru. There are five recognized subspecies, with specific ranges that can be found below.
Subspecies List and Range
- Anthracothorax prevostii ssp. gracilirostris- El Salvador and Honduras to Costa Rica
- Anthracothorax prevostii ssp. hendersoni- San Andrés and Providencia islands of the Caribbean
- Anthracothorax prevostii ssp. Iridescens- Ecuador and Northern Peru
- Anthracothorax prevostii ssp. prevostii- Southern Mexico to El Salvador
- Anthracothorax prevostii ssp. viridicordatus- Northern Colombia and Venezuela
In keeping with their adventurous nature, there have been at least two sightings of the green-breasted mango in Texas. Additionally, the green-breasted mango was thought to be replaced by the veraguan mango in southern Costa Rica and Panama. But more on that hot topic later!
Green-breasted mangos stick to lowland habitats of less than 3,300 ft (1000m). The edges of forests and cultivated gardens are the most likely places to spot one. You can also look out for mangroves, orchards, and open woodlands. They tend to be in scattered local populations, so a local expert birding guide will be an invaluable resource.
The first time that I saw the green-breasted mango was next to a supermarket! I wouldn’t suggest scoping out Walmart, though. I have the fortune to live in the middle of the jungle in Costa Rica, so our supermarket is probably not exactly what you are picturing.
The Veraguan Mango Debate
Where I live, in the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica, there are not supposed to be green-breasted mangos. The veraguan mango is allegedly the only species of mango that we have here in the south of the country. However, (as previously stated), I have personally seen this beautiful little bird on multiple occasions. And so have many of my tour guide and biologist friends.
So what’s going on here?
The first time that I saw the green-breasted mango in the Osa was in 2016, after Hurricane Otto. It was an intense time to be living in Costa Rica, as it was the first hurricane to make landfall in Costa Rica and Nicaragua since 1851. The northern part of the country suffered a lot of property damage and several deaths. Here in the south, we had the longest power cut that I have ever experienced- three full weeks in the dark.
What does all this have to do with the green-breasted mango? Hurricanes have been documented to cause the displacement or immigration of various bird species. According to iNatualist, the first local sightings of the green-breasted mango began after Hurricane Otto. These data are supported by my observations and the observations of my birder friends.
I hypothesize that the green-breasted mangos from the northern parts of the country traveled south to seek out more favorable weather conditions. Due to the Osa Peninsula’s impressive diversity of plants and undisrupted bird habitats, they seem to have stuck around. Creating a distinct local population of green-breasted mangos in the region.
Green-breasted Mango Breeding and Nesting
As with almost all hummingbird species, the male green-breasted mango makes little contribution to the reproductive process. They will quickly mate with the female before immediately departing to take care of more pressing matters.
If you are looking for a green-breasted hummingbird nest, you should scope out thin, bare branches high up in the trees. Nests are small, cup-shaped, and camouflaged with moss and other plant materials.
One interesting addition to the green-breasted mango nest is spider silk. Many hummingbird species utilize this material. They will collect the silk from spider webs using their chest and beak. Then they will incorporate the silk into the nest. This helps to bind the other nesting materials together. It also provides an elastic quality to the nests, allowing them to expand as the chicks grow.
The Reality of Hummingbird Feeders in the Tropics
Whenever bird enthusiasts discuss hummingbirds, the bird feeder conversation is bound to come up. Hummingbird feeders are by far the most controversial of all types of bird feeders. There is also a wide variety of often contradictory information to be found online.
In general, the important points to note about hummingbird feeders are as follows:
- Do not use red dye
- Use a 1:4 ratio of white table sugar to water
- Keep your hummingbird feeder clean.
In the excellent article by Reina Esser, you can see some more detailed research on these matters. However, since the green-breasted mango is a neotropical bird, it is worth talking about a few specific issues related to tropical climates and habitats.
Fermentation and mold growth in hummingbird feeders are particularly problematic in the tropics. Most Northern American bird feeders can handle 2-3 days before changing the nectar solution. Here next to the equator, you will be lucky to make it through one day without some type of fermentation occurring. This means that if you want to have a hummingbird feeder for green-breasted mango or other neotropical species, you must be especially vigilant. Clean and change your feeder daily. No excuses!
Since most neotropical species of hummingbirds do not migrate, there is also a possibility that you will have individual hummingbirds hanging out at your feeder all year long. My husband and I have personal experience with this. What we found is that individual hummingbirds started to congregate around our feeders and sit there all day. Although it was great for photography, we felt that it wasn’t great for the health of the birds nor the pollination of local flowers. We quickly transitioned into a natural hummingbird garden instead.
There is not a lot of documented evidence of hummingbird feeders having negative effects on populations in North America. Provided that you follow the general recommendations. Nevertheless, in regions such as the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica, ecosystems are complex and under-studied. It’s probably best to plant some local flowers if you live in these areas instead of busting out the sugar water.
Conservation of the Green-breasted Mango
The IUCN assessed the population of green-breasted mangos in 2020 and categorized it as “Least Concern.” The current estimate is between 500,000 to 5 million individuals. Admittedly, this is a large range. But it’s comforting to know that this enigmatic little species is doing ok.
Of course, there are still some threats to the green-breasted mango to consider. Natural predators include raptors, bats, large snakes, and lizards. Omnivorous birds may also prey on hummingbird eggs or chicks- especially those in the toucan family.
Human behaviors that may harm the green-breasted mango include habitat destruction, pesticides, and domestic cats. If you are looking to support a green-breasted mango conservation project, look for organizations in Central America that focus on:
- Organic Farming
- Spay/neuter Projects
- Native Flower Permaculture
Answer: Hummingbirds can fly at speeds of up to 98 km per hour. They can flap their wings at up to 70 beats per second. This makes photographing them a pretty neat trick. Frantically attempting to follow the hummingbird as it flits from flower to flower is unlikely to get good results. Here is the most effective method:
1- Find a flowering plant that is well-known for the species of hummingbird you are trying to photograph
2- Locate a single flower on the plant that is in good sunlight
3- Get out your tripod and camera, and focus the shot on that one flower
4- Sit a good distance back from the plant and wait (a remote control for your camera is useful here)
5- Wait for the hummingbird to visit the specific flower that you have in focus and do a short burst of shots.
Answer: In a 2014 study, color was shown to be an important factor in hummingbird foraging behavior. The data suggest that hummingbirds do indeed prefer flowers with red pigments. However, this does not necessarily mean that the flowers will appear bright red to our human eyes. Hummingbirds are extremely sensitive to red pigments, so preferred flowers may be red, orange, purple, or pink. Green-breasted mangos have also been observed to sip from white flowers. But it’s not all about color.
There are a variety of other factors that contribute to hummingbird flower preferences. The size and shape of the flowers are important. For example, hummingbirds with straight beaks will have trouble collecting nectar from curved flowers. In a fascinating study from 2021, smell has also been shown to be a factor. It was previously thought that hummingbirds did not possess a keen sense of smell. But this paper shows that hummingbirds may be able to smell potentially hazardous insects that are visiting specific flowers. Perhaps in the future, we will find out that hummingbirds have a preference for certain nectar smells as well.
Answer: Swifts are the closest living relative of hummingbirds. The two groups of birds split from each other approximately 42 million years ago. But wait, aren’t swifts European birds? That is correct. The oldest known hummingbird fossils are from Germany, Poland, and France. The oldest known is from South Eastern Germany and is named Eurotrochilus inexpectatus. It is estimated to be between 30 and 35 million years old. There is no consensus in the scientific community about how or why hummingbirds immigrated to the Americas. Perhaps they were explorers, too, just like the green-breasted mango!
- IUCN Red List
- Current Biology
- University of California
- Plant Species Biology
- Beauty of Birds
- Integrative Organismal Biology
- The Birds of Costa Rica
- An Illustrated Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica
Looking for more interesting readings? Check out: