Not all bird species are equally spectacular. Just as we malign the little brown jobs nature churns out with such fiendish facility, we exalt the birds that bring something new and unusual to the table. And although every hummingbird is a special snowflake, some of these nectar jockeys exceed their charismatic kin through some remarkable feature or behavior. These are the birds we usually value the most when we see them and remember most fondly in later years. For example, you would never forget the first time you looked up while exploring the upper altitudes of the Andes and saw this silhouette…
Wow, look at the length of that bill!
Allow me to introduce one of the coolest birds on the planet, the Sword-billed Hummingbird.
Male Sword-billed Hummingbird at Yanacocha Reserve
The Sword-billed Hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera) is a South American hummingbird found at high elevations (1700-3600m) in the Andes from Venezuela to Bolivia. This monotypic species stands apart from all other birds as the only one with a bill longer than its body. In fact, at 3-4 inches, the swordbill’s lengthy lance can be longer than some entire hummingbirds of other species. And it should go without saying that a bird with such a long bill will have an equally extensible tongue. Fire away!
Why would a bird evolve to work with such an unwieldy apparatus? To fill an ecological niche of course! The Sword-billed Hummingbird feeds from flowers such as those in the genera Datura, Fuchsia, or Passiflora that are too long to accommodate less endowed avians. Such a gift, however, presents certain challenges around the feeder…
Many thanks to my friend Renato, owner and operator of Pululahua Hostal, for taking me to see these sweet sword-wielders (Latin derivation of ensifera) at Yanacocha Reserve and Guango Lodge. David was also with us when we encountered our first Sword-billed Hummingbirds; enjoy his entertaining and edifying gallery.
Female Sword-billed Hummingbird at Guango Lodge
And for those of you who have fallen in love with this phenomenal bird but have no plans to visit South America any time soon, consider making your own origami Sword-billed Hummingbird!