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On the hunt for hummers? Who isn’t? These agile jewels are as intriguing as they are stunning. Hummingbirds were the first family of birds to spark my interest in ornithology, so I am especially keen to write about them. I love hummingbirds because you can begin your hunt right in your backyard with an affordable feeder and a bag of sugar.
As I became familiar with species in my area, I began to wonder more about species that occurred across the continent. If Georgia has pretty hummingbirds, what do they look like in Central and South America?
The variety and beauty amazed me as I scanned thousands of bird pictures across the internet. Crazy Saturday night, right? From the Violetear, Rufous-crested Coquette, Marvelous Spatuletail, White-necked Jacobin, and more, I was enthralled by these small but insanely fascinating birds with next-level beauty.
The White-eared Hummingbird is one of many hummingbirds on my list that I hope to spot on upcoming travels to Mexico. The White-eared Hummingbird belongs to the Trochilini tribe of the subfamily of Trochilinae, while the family Trochilidae encompasses all hummingbird species.
The Tronchilini tribe is also commonly referred to as “emeralds.” Other tribes within this family include Lampornithini (mountain gems) and Mellisugini (bees). The genus Basilinna only contains two species of hummingbirds:
- Baslinna leucotis – White-Eared Hummingbird
- Baslinna xantusii – Xantus’s Hummingbird
B. leucotis has three subspecies:
- B. l. leucotis – Discovered in 1929. It occurs in Southeastern Arizona and Northern Mexico
- B. l. borealis – Discovered in 1818. It occurs in Central and Southern Mexico and Guatemala
- B. l. pygmaea – Discovered in 1908. It occurs in El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua
How to Identify a White-eared Hummingbird
This is a medium-small hummingbird that ranges between 3.5 to 3.9 inches in length and weighs 0.1 to 0.14 ounces.
The White-eared Hummingbird has a unique straight bill that is bright red with a black tip. It has long wings that extend past a square-tipped tail. Males and females look similar in size and general pattern, although, like most hummingbird species, males have more distinctive colors than females.
Although its striking red and black bill is enough to win us over, this bird is named after its primary feature, a distinctive white stripe that occurs behind the eye, extending to the sides of the neck and ears. In males, the white stripe contrasts effortlessly against a stark black head, which features a violet crown and chin that are not easily noticed and may look black unless the bird is positioned at an angle that catches the sunlight. Males have whitish and green speckled underparts with copper-infused green upper parts.
Females do not have a violet crown or chin. She has a white and green-brown speckled throat and underparts. The white stripe starting right at the middle of the eye contrasts against a cinnamon and green spotted head, with a dull black patch encompassing the area around its eyes.
Juvenile White-eared Hummingbirds have their namesake white stripe across the side of their head but will appear dull in the face and across underparts when compared to adult males and females. Unlike the bright red bill of their adult counterparts, a muted one is common in juveniles.
White-eared Hummingbird vs. Broad-billed Hummingbird
The White-eared Hummingbird is only confused with one other species, the Broad-billed Hummingbird. Luckily, these two are relatively simple to distinguish. The White-eared Hummingbird and the Broad-billed Hummingbird overlap in areas of the southwestern United States and Mexico
The Broad-billed Hummingbird also has a bright red bill with a black tip. Both species also have notched tails, but only one of the two species has a white ear stripe, and that’s our White-eared Hummingbird. If you can only catch a quick glimpse of either bird, remembering whether it has a white ear stripe is essential for identifying which bird you sighted.
Where Does a White-eared Hummingbird Live: Habitat
The White-eared Hummingbird can be found broadly dispersed across forested montane regions, according to Birds of the World. This bird is a resident of the southwestern United States and south through Mexico and Nicaragua.
Hummers living in the United States and throughout the Sonora, Chihuahua, and Nuevo Leon range of Mexico migrate to warmer regions during the winter. All other populations are year-round residents.
Its occurrence in the southwestern region of the United States is less common but is most frequently sighted in southeastern Arizona. Areas of New Mexico, Texas, California, and Nevada have been reported in past years, but it still remains very uncommon in the United States.
Throughout the rest of its range, pine-oak woods and montane coniferous forests are the White-eared Hummingbird’s preferred habitat. Elevations range from 3,900 to 11,500 feet. Look for it in flowering forest clearings and along forest edges.
White-eared Hummingbird Diet and Feeding
The White-eared Hummingbird has a diet that is similar to most other hummingbirds, which includes nectar and a variety of insects. Nectar is supplied by various flowering plants, shrubs, and trees.
Plants like agaves, tillandsias, fuschia fulgens, and salvias are commonly visited by the White-eared Hummingbird. Since nectar alone cannot provide hummingbirds with the nutrients they need, they rely on a supplemental diet of insects to gain essential vitamins and calories.
Hummingbirds forage insects by scanning tree trunks, branches, underneath leaves, and even spiderwebs for tasty and nutritious snacks. Foraging is done from low to medium heights. Fruit flies, beetles, ants, mosquitos, small spiders, aphids, and mites are among the most commonly consumed insects.
Hummingbirds have immense caloric needs that they need to meet daily. The overall goal is to consume half of their body weight daily, which increases as winter migration approaches. While nectar gives hummers a quick energy boost, they need to seek out nearly 2,000 flowerings in one day and will still need to seek out the same number of insects as well. Every 10 to 15 minutes, hummingbirds must eat.
How and What To Feed Hummingbirds
Placing feedings out is a great way to support hummingbird species in your area. No matter the season, nectar feeders are a quick and convenient way for these birds to get the energy boost they need, especially since they need to source a few thousand bugs as well.
Types of Hummingbird Feeders
There are three different types of hummingbird feeders. Each feeder has pros and cons, but the important part is that you choose one that works for you.
Inverted Bottle Feeders: Perhaps the most common hummingbird feeder, you’ve almost certainly seen one. Inverted bottle feeders feature a medium size nectar reservoir that resembles a drinking glass. Whether glass or plastic, they range in size, typically falling between 10 to 20 ounces (or more!).
The reservoir is filled while the cup is upright, and the base with feeding ports is threaded on like a lid. Once fully secure, the feeder is turned upside down to fill the base with nectar. As the hummingbirds drink, gravity works to keep the base full.
This process can lead to sticky hands and forearms, but the convenience of providing a large quantity of nectar, usually only once a week, is a great deal easier than refilling small feeders.
If you do not have many hummingbirds in your area, a smaller feeder may better suit your needs. Large quantities of nectar may be wasted if there is not a high enough nectar demand. Nectar should be replenished at least once per week and more often in warm temperatures.
Saucer Feeders: Small saucer-like dish with feeding ports located above the nectar reservoir. These feeders are simple to take apart and clean. They hold less nectar than inverted bottle feeders, but since the feeding ports are located above the nectar reservoir, the filling process is less sticky than with other types of feeders.
Hummingbirds may have a harder time spotting saucer feeders initially, but with time and proper placement, they should locate it. These feeders are ideal for the birder who is able to refill nectar every day or every other day.
Decorative Feeders: Decorative feeders allow you to invite some creativity into your bird feeder lineup. These types of feeders come in various works of art.
From hand-blown glass bottles to artificial flower stakes, or dangling orbs, there is surely something for every style. The caveat, however, is that function does not always prevail. While these feeders give you a new garden centerpiece, small parts and cutesy bottles may prove challenging to hang, clean, and fill.
Types of Hummingbird Food
Supplying hummingbirds with a simple sugar water mixture is the easiest, safest, and most affordable way to feed them. Peep the next section of this guide for my quick rant about store-bought hummingbird food.
To make your own nectar, you only need tap water and refined white sugar. Never use any other type of sugar or sweetener, such as brown sugar, raw sugar, confectioners, sugar, honey, and sugar substitutes. Your basic bag of refined white sugar from the grocery store is the safest bet!
- The Recipe: Mix four parts of hot or boiling tap water with one part of refined white sugar. Let the mixture reach room temperature, fill feeders, and store any extra nectar in the fridge for up to one week.
It’s easy to assume that hummingbirds would pick the mealworms out of a seed blend meant for wrens and other bug-loving birds, but hummingbirds have not been known to accept dried insects of any kind.
Instead, you can also help hummingbirds with their daily insect intake by placing overly ripe bananas and other fruits that may attract fruit flies, gnats, and other creepy crawlies. This gives you a reason to keep that one brown banana just a *little* longer 😉
Be a Hummingbird Ally! Lifesaving Nectar and Feeder Tips
What’s the number one killer of hummingbirds? Sadly, it’s spoiled, toxic nectar and disease from dirty hummingbird feeders. Say it ain’t so! As bird enthusiasts, we have to do better and ensure we provide a clean and safe food source.
Feeding hummingbirds is a joy that nearly every bird watcher knows. Whether you have one saucer feeder or several large inverted bottle feeders, you choose to provide essential calories to these chirpy zooming birds. Now that you’ve done so, you must take this duty seriously and learn a few lifesaving tips regarding nectar and feeder care.
Tip One: Clean feeders once or twice weekly, depending on the season. During warmer months, more frequent cleaning is required. Completely empty feeders. Yes, this includes disposing of any unused nectar. It is best to start completely fresh. Enlist the help of a bottle brush and hot tap water.
Be sure to scrub feeding ports, bee guards, and the entire feeder inside and out. Hot water is enough to do the job diligently, but if you want to go the extra mile, a weak vinegar and water solution may be used instead. Avoid dish soap. Dish soap can leave behind unseen residues and chemicals that can harm our beloved hummers.
Tip Two: Make your own nectar following the recipe above. Homemade nectar is leagues better for hummingbirds than that store-bought swill. Yeah, I said it! Store-bought hummingbird food contains additives and preservatives that are unnecessary and can cause easily avoidable issues for them. Also, you’re purchasing a large plastic jug of sugar water…which is a total scam and bad for our sweet Mother Earth.
Contrary to popular belief, hummingbirds do not need nectar to be red. You’ll notice that almost every hummingbird feeder on the market has the color red on it. This is plenty to get them to notice your feeder. Red nectar is just a marketing scheme created to convince bird lovers to purchase premade “hummingbird food.”
Tip Three: Refill feeders often, even if they’re not yet empty. During the summer, hot temperatures ferment nectar rapidly. It’s best to place feeders in partial shade to alleviate the strain the sun can cause on your feeders and attempt to keep nectar as safe as possible.
If you notice extreme heat on the weather forecast, bring feeders inside and place them back out later that evening once things have cooled down.
White-eared Hummingbird Breeding
When it comes time for procreation, White-eared Hummingbirds with a range in northern and central Mexico breed between March and August, while populations in southern Mexico breed from November to February. Populations living in within Guatemala and El Salvador focus their breeding efforts from October until December. Got all that? Ok, good!
The bulk of most hummingbirds’ social interactions happens during mating season. Male White-eared Hummingbirds form small leks of seven or fewer. Leks assemble 60 to 100 feet apart.
Lek mating is when a group of male animals gathers together to strut their stuff and perform courtship displays competitively. Your $10 haircut always looks better next to someone who gave themselves one with the kitchen scissors, right?
This type of gathering is not common to most species. A few species of hummingbirds known to lek are Guy’s Hermits, Long-tailed Hermits, and Wedge-tailed Sabrewings.
As they gather, they sing and chirp in hopes that females will spectate. Females invite males back to their nesting territory, where further flight displays are needed to seal the deal.
This next courtship display involves impressive acrobatic dives from males as they vie for a perched female’s attention. Males can climb upwards of 100 feet before rapidly soaring downward at speeds around 50 miles per hour. The dive is done in a “U” or “V” formation and last only 10 to 12 seconds.
Once a female White-eared Hummingbird has decided the display was sufficient, she assumes a position that invites the male to copulate. After copulation, the female may also mate with several other males. Male hummingbirds are also known to mate with many females.
Copulation is the only time the pair is united. All other breeding duties are the responsibility of the female.
White-eared Hummingbird Nesting
In anticipation of laying eggs, a delicate nest is constructed by the female White-eared Hummingbird. The nest is typically built 5 to 19 feet above ground in a suitable tree or large shrub.
A tiny fairy-like cup of woven grass, leaves, down from plants, and animal hair, is constructed over the course of 6 to 10 days. The cup is 2 inches wide by 1 inch deep. While this may seem far too small to accommodate 1 to 3 eggs, the female hummingbird has a secret weapon — spider webbing.
Collecting spider webs is an essential part of the nest-building process. Wrapping the formed cup in spider silk provides the loosely woven materials to gain structure and elasticity. As the eggs hatch, the nest will expand. This means that the nest does not get any larger than it needs to be, and the mother and young stay cozy and warm.
Spider webbing also serves a dual purpose. It acts as a velcro-like sticky surface for small bits of lichen and bark to adhere to the nest’s exterior. This creates a very effective camouflage effect that is intended to keep predators and male hummingbirds away.
If a male hummingbird visits a nest, his vibrant colors and big personality are likely to tip off animals that want to rob the nest of its eggs or young.
White-eared Hummingbird Eggs
Eggs are oval and white and feature no additional markings. The female lays a clutch of two eggs, which she incubates for 14 to 16 days. Once the eggs hatch, the female gathers food multiple times per day to feed her helpless chicks.
To deliver the gathered sustenance to the chicks, the mother bird inserts her long bill into the mouths of her young and regurgitates a slurry of insects. Some nectar may be included, but nectar has little nutritional value for the young.
After 23 to 28 days in the safety of the nest, the young begin to fledge. White-eared Hummingbirds may raise two broods during the breeding season.
The Hummingbird’s Superpower
Hummingbirds have a seriously impressive survival skill that should be shared more frequently! Have you ever seen a hummingbird hanging upside down from a branch or feeder on a cold night and assumed it was dead? Well, it was actually in torpor. Like hibernation in other animals, torpor is a low-activity state that hummingbirds use to conserve energy.
Torpor works by decreasing the bird’s body temperature from 104 degrees Fahrenheit to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. This slows down their metabolism, heart rate, and respiration to keep hummingbirds alive but sedentary when winter food sources are scarce. The bird can engage in this unresponsive state during the day or night and lasts for several hours but not longer than a day.
While in torpor, a hummingbird will fluff their feathers out in order to keep them as warm as possible. Upon waking up, it takes 20 minutes to 1 hour for the bird to recover and acclimate.
Shivering is common to raise their body temperature back to a suitable level. Hummingbirds’ top priority is to source food as soon as they awake. If they cannot get any nutrients, they may not recover. Some hummingbirds do not survive torpor.
You can help hummingbirds survive cold nights and unexpected cold snaps by providing nectar all year. It is a myth that hummingbirds will not migrate if you leave feeders out year-round.
In fact, providing nectar may save the life of a migrating hummingbird that needs a quick snack while on the way to a warmer winter destination. Be sure to bring feeders in if temperatures plan to drop below freezing and return them to their original location by dawn.
White-eared Hummingbird Population
Due to the broad distribution range of the White-eared species, little population information is available. According to BirdLife International, the population size is very large, and the species is not considered vulnerable. White-eared Hummingbirds are classified as a species of Least Concern by the IUCN Red List for birds.
The White-eared Hummingbird is vulnerable to forest loss. However, their preference for living along the edges of forests and in clearings makes them more adaptable to these harmful human effects on their habitat than other montane hummingbird species.
White-eared Hummingbird Habits
Hummingbirds, as a whole, are rather territorial birds. The White-eared Hummingbird is an accurate representation of this behavior. Upon observation, you will notice the White-eared Hummingbird defends its territory against other hummingbirds, including those of different species like Bumblebee Hummingbirds and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds. The White-eared Hummingbird will, however, concede and reduce aggression when matched against much larger species of hummingbirds like Rivoli’s Hummingbird or the Talamanca Hummingbird.
Other than the mating season, these birds are also solitary most of the year. This is typical behavior for nearly all species of hummingbirds, so don’t feel too bad for them.
White-eared Hummingbird Predators
The swiftness of hummingbirds makes them able to escape slower-moving predators easily, but this doesn’t mean they are invincible. A wide array of animals threaten the safety of adult hummingbirds, and a few might make you scratch your head in confusion.
Snakes, frogs, fish, and lizards have all been known to regularly snatch hummingbirds mid-flight. Even insects like the praying mantis, dragonfly, robber fly, and many types of spiders can successfully turn a hummingbird into their prey.
Hummingbirds have keen eyesight and typically don’t go down without a fight, but most insects have a sit-and-wait approach and great camouflaging abilities.
Praying mantises hide carefully on nectar feeders and strike to kill as the bird takes a drink. Spiders don’t actively seek out the hummingbird as much as other predators, but when a nearby hummer stops by a spider’s web to steal a few insects, they can sometimes get tangled and trapped within the web. The bird usually dies due to starvation or dehydration if it cannot escape.
Other birds, such as hawks, owls, herons, gulls, grackles, and corvids, also prey on hummingbirds when convenient. Hummingbirds are naturally aggressive and territorial and have been known to protect themselves against attacks by larger birds, but sometimes, the odds are stacked against them.
Nest robbing is when another animal preys on eggs or young ones in the nest. This is a common threat that almost every single bird experiences. Snakes, raccoons, cats, squirrels, chipmunks, monkeys, and larger birds are all very likely offenders. This is why female hummingbirds camouflage their nests so thoroughly.
White-eared Hummingbird Lifespan
There is no information available relating to the White-eared Hummingbird’s average lifespan. Most hummingbird species live about five years on average but can live up to 10 years in the wild. The longest-living hummingbird was a female Broad-tailed Hummingbird that was recorded to be 12 years old. These small and fragile-looking birds are rather resilient once they get the hang of the whole “life” thing.
Frequently Asked Questions
Answer: This beautiful species of hummingbird lives in the stunning montane forests of Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and some parts of the southwestern United States, such as Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.
Answer: Hummingbirds belong to a variety of genera within the order Apodiformes which is composed of swifts, treeswifts, and hummingbirds. From there, hummingbirds are further classified into the family Trochilidae, which has around 361 species across 113 genera.
Answer: Migratory hummingbirds travel to warmer destinations if their range experiences unsuitable temperatures. Common migratory locations include southern Mexico and Central America. Some may settle in southwestern states like Texas or Arizona, while others are fine with the southeastern states such as Georgia and Florida.
Answer: Depending on the species, hummingbirds range between 3 and 4 inches on average. The largest hummingbird species is the Giant Hummingbird of Patagonia. This hummingbird species is about 8 inches long but can reach up to 9 inches. In the United States, the largest hummingbird species is the Blue-throated Mountaingem which is 5 inches long.
- Audubon: White-eared Hummingbird Guide
- The Cornell Lab of Ornithology: White-eared Hummingbird
- World Bird Names: White-eared Hummingbird Subspecies
- BirdLife International: White-eared Hummingbird Fact Sheet
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