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3 Surprising Facts About the Black-Crested Coquette Hummingbird

When it comes to hummingbirds, size doesn’t always matter. The Black-crested Coquette is an excellent example of this, measuring just 3-4 inches in length.

This species is one of the smallest of all hummingbirds, but don’t let its size fool you; it possesses incredible abilities that make it stand out among its peers. In this article, we’ll explore the key identification features of the Black-crested Coquette, its various plumages, molts, and learn why it’s so special.


Field Identification

The Black-crested Coquette is easy to identify, so long as it’s a male. The bird boasts an iridescent green upper body that extends down to its tail.

The lower part of its body is pure white, with striking black feathers that extend from its forehead to its bill. The bird’s bill is long and straight, with a slight curve towards the end, making it perfect for feeding on nectar.

Female birds are slightly duller in their appearance, with a greenish-gray tint covering their bodies.

Similar Species

One of the birds that look similar to the Black-crested Coquette is the Green Thorntail. It’s best to differentiate these two birds in flight, where you can see the Green Thorntail’s elongated tail feathers and slower, more deliberate flight.

On the other hand, the Black-crested Coquette has a shorter tail and faster, more erratic flight.


The Black-crested Coquette has two main plumages – the basic and alternative – which are determined by the bird’s age and sex. In its Basic plumage, the male bird sports a pale cinnamon-colored head, black forehead and chin feathers, an iridescent green back, and pure white underparts.

Conversely, the female’s plumage is duller and lacks the black feathers seen on the male’s forehead and chin. During its Alternative plumage, the male sheds off its uniform green feathers, marking the start of its courting period.

Its forehead and chin feathers grow, forming an impressive black crest, deeply contrasting with its white underparts. The male then begins an elaborate courtship display to impress a female, where it performs acrobatic dives and ascents before flashing its crest in an elaborate U-shaped trajectory.


The Black-crested Coquette goes through two main molts – the prebasic molt and pre-alternate molt. During the prebasic molt, which takes place in late summer, the bird sheds and replaces all of its feathers.

During this time, the bird’s colors may appear duller as it grows a new set of feathers. The pre-alternate molt, which occurs during winter, only affects male birds.

During this molting period, their green feathers are shed, and the male grows new unique feathers, including their iconic black crest.


The Black-crested Coquette is a diminutive yet charming bird that’s a wonder to watch in action. All bird lovers, whether new or already seasoned, who enjoy watching hummingbirds in their natural habitat will marvel at this species.

By familiarizing yourself with the bird’s key features, plumages, and molting periods, you’ll have a more comprehensive understanding of the Black-crested Coquette and will be able to appreciate its uniqueness fully.

Systematics History

The Black-Crested Coquette, scientifically known as Lophornis helenae, was first described by John Gould in 1852. Since then, the species has undergone a few changes in its taxonomy, including its placement in the Trochilidae family and the Lophornithinae subfamily.

Geographic Variation

The Black-crested Coquette has a wide range across Central and South America, covering countries such as Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil. However, within this range, there is some variation in the bird’s appearance.


The Black-crested Coquette has two recognized subspecies:

1. Lophornis helenae helenae, found mostly in western Panama and part of Colombia, is characterized by its smaller size and a slightly duller appearance compared to the other subspecies.

2. Lophornis helenae margarethae is found in the area east of the Andes, in a wide range from southern Colombia to northern Argentina.

This subspecies is slightly larger, with a brighter and more iridescent green color compared to the Lophornis helenae helenae.

Related Species

The Black-crested Coquette belongs to the genus Lophornis, which consists of sixteen other species within the Trochilidae family. However, the Black-crested Coquette is the only member of its subspecies, making it unique within the genus.

Historical Changes to Distribution

The range of the Black-crested Coquette has been subject to historical changes, which have caused variation in its distribution. The bird’s distribution was initially thought to be limited to the western part of Panama, but with time, its range has expanded.

In the mid-1970s, the Black-crested Coquette was observed within Amistad National Park, located on the Panama-Costa Rica border. This discovery led to its rediscovery in Costa Rica after several decades of being considered extinct in the country.

Since then, the species’ range has expanded further north in Costa Rica, where it can now be found in the Monteverde area and Fila Chonta. The species was also recorded in the Corcovado National Park in 1983 and the rea de Conservacin Guanacaste in 1984.

In Colombia, the species’ distribution was initially thought to be limited to the western part of the country, but several studies have indicated further expansion into the eastern parts. In Venezuela, the species has been found within the Andes mountain range, at an altitude of 1500-2400 meters above sea level.

In Peru, the Black-crested Coquette was first encountered in the Loreto Department in the northern part of the country. However, more recent observations indicate that the species’ range could extend further south towards the Cujabamba area.

The species has also been observed in Ecuador’s eastern Andes, specifically the area around Sumaco Biosphere Reserve. In Brazil, the Black-crested Coquette has been found in the Serra dos rgos National Park, in the southeast part of the country.


The Black-crested Coquette has undergone many changes in taxonomy and distribution. Its once thought-to-be-limited range has expanded, with the bird now found across Central and South America.

The two recognized subspecies exhibit slight variations in appearance, and the species is unique within its genus. Continued research and observation of the Black-crested Coquette’s systematics history can lead to a deeper understanding of this fascinating bird and the evolution of its distribution.


The Black-crested Coquette is found in a variety of habitats throughout its range, but primarily occupies montane forests, cloud forests, and forest edges. It can also be found in secondary growth forests and gardens with abundant flowering trees and vines.

The bird is known to favor forests with thick canopies, providing a suitable environment for its preferred nectar sources. In many areas within its range, the Black-crested Coquette has been observed at altitudes ranging from 400 to 2,600 meters above sea level.

Its presence in secondary growth forests suggests that the Black-crested Coquette can adapt to disturbed ecosystems, which have been altered or modified by human activities. Like most hummingbirds, the Black-crested Coquette is also found in areas with an ample supply of flowering trees and vines.

Movements and Migration

The Black-crested Coquette is a non-migratory bird, meaning it doesn’t undertake long-distance movements or migrations typical of some bird species. It is believed not to need to migrate due to the relatively stable climate in its geographical range.

However, some research has indicated that the species undergoes short-distance movements, known as vertical and horizontal shifts, to find more abundant food and nesting resources. During the breeding season, male birds have been observed to move from their regular habitat to search for nectar-rich flowering trees and vines where they can attract a mate.

The species also exhibits territorial behavior, where male birds aggressively defend their feeding territories against rival hummingbirds. This behavior may contribute to the species’ ability to thrive within particular environments, without requiring regular movements in search of resources.

The Black-crested Coquette has a unique aerial foraging method that involves hovering while sipping nectar from flowers. Through this hovering feeding behavior, it can quickly move from one flower to the next, allowing it to forage within a small area and avoid the need for long-distance migration.

The species’ dependence on flowering trees and vines could have a significant impact on its distribution patterns. Any changes in the availability of such flowering resources may force the bird to shift its range in search of more abundant resources.

Additionally, habitat destruction and fragmentation, including deforestation and degradation of montane forests, could have long-term effects on the species. This could disrupt the normal patterns of food availability and territorial behavior of the Black-crested Coquette, further affecting its population dynamics and the functioning of ecosystems.


The Black-crested Coquette is primarily found in forested areas, particularly in montane regions and forest edges. It’s a non-migratory bird with a unique aerial foraging method that allows it to move between flower peers efficiently.

Although it might undergo short-range shifts to find better resources, it doesn’t undertake typical long-distance migrations. However, changes in the availability of nectar-rich flowering trees and vines or habitat destruction can impact its range expansion and population dynamics.

Understanding these aspects of the Black-crested Coquette is crucial for its successful conservation and protection of the ecosystems it inhabits.

Diet and Foraging


The Black-crested Coquette is primarily a nectarivorous bird, feeding on the nectar of a variety of flowering trees and vines, such as bromeliads and heliconias. They use their long, straight bills to reach inside the flower to obtain the nectar, and use their tongues to lap up the liquid.

In addition to nectar, the bird supplements its diet with small insects and spiders, which it captures by flycatching from a perch or while hovering mid-air. To maximize its nectar diet, the Black-crested Coquette has developed a specialized digestive system that enables it to extract nutrients efficiently from its food.


The Black-crested Coquette has a strictly nectarivorous diet but will supplement its nectar intake with insects and spiders. Its diet predominantly comprises nectar from flowering trees and vines, with one study in Panama finding that the bird’s primary sources of nectar came from bromeliads and heliconias.

In addition to nectar, the bird also feeds on small insects and spiders. It can capture insects by flycatching while hovering in mid-air or while perched, making quick and agile movements to catch its prey.

Metabolism and Temperature Regulation

The Black-crested Coquette has a high metabolic rate, which is necessary to power its hovering flight. This ability to hover mid-air requires immense energy expenditure, which the bird meets through its nectar-rich diet.

To regulate its temperature during the energetic foraging process, the bird has adapted its body to reduce heat loss through its feathers. It has been observed that the bird’s body temperature can increase by about 1.8-2C while hovering in mid-air, demonstrating its high metabolism and energy expenditure.

Sounds and Vocal Behavior


The Black-crested Coquette is not as vocal as some other hummingbird species. It produces vocalizations primarily during courtship displays and territorial disputes.

Male birds produce a series of high-pitched chirping sounds during their courtship displays when trying to attract females. These sounds include squeaky, non-musical notes that are repeated rapidly, culminating in a trill.

During territorial disputes, the bird produces a series of sharp “chip” and “tsip” notes. These sounds serve to defend the bird’s feeding territories, which it holds very fiercely against rival hummingbirds.

The bird’s vocalizations are not as loud or frequent as some other hummingbird species. Instead, it relies more on its physical abilities like quick aerial movements and territorial behavior to deter intruders.


The Black-crested Coquette is a nectarivorous bird with a specialized digestive system that enables it to extract nutrients efficiently from its nectar-rich diet. It supplements its diet with small insects and spiders, capturing them using flycatching techniques.

Its high metabolic rate, which powers its hovering flight, requires a nectar-rich diet to match its energy expenditure. In addition, to regulate its temperature during the energetic foraging process, the bird has adapted its body to reduce heat loss through its feathers.

The Black-crested Coquette is not a vocal bird but produces vocalizations during courtship and territorial disputes. Male birds produce high-pitched chirping sounds, while territorial disputes result in sharp “chip” and “tsip” notes.

Understanding the feeding and vocal behavior of the Black-crested Coquette is important for its conservation and protection, emphasizing the need to safeguard the habitats where the birds feed and nest.



The Black-crested Coquette is an agile and highly mobile bird. Its unique hovering flight allows it to forage in mid-air and reach deep inside flowers to extract nectar.

It’s also able to hover in place while searching for insects and spiders to supplement its diet. While not hovering, the bird moves rapidly from flower to flower, often using a series of short, rapid flights that make it seem like it’s darting around.

This enables it to cover more ground to find food quickly.

Self Maintenance

Like most birds, the Black-crested Coquette regularly preens its feathers. Preening is a behavioral adaptation used to clean and order feathers, keeping them in good condition.

The bird’s activity levels decrease during preening, allowing it to take some time to rest while maintaining its feathers. It also helps to restore the bird’s feather insulation properties, which are crucial to regulating body temperature during flight.

Agonistic Behavior

The Black-crested Coquette’s territorial behavior is key to its survival, as it helps defend its food sources from other birds. The bird will aggressively defend its feeding territories against rival hummingbirds or other bird species.

The defense behavior includes a series of quick and agile aerial maneuvers, which can be noisy and aggressive, as the bird tries to maintain control of its food sources. The Black-crested Coquette also utilizes its high-pitched vocalizations to warn off intruders.

Sexual Behavior

Males of the Black-crested Coquette undertake elaborate courtship displays during the breeding season to attract females. The displays involve acrobatic maneuvers such as dives and ascents while flashing their black crests.

During the displays, the males make intense and rapid wing beats, creating a humming sound that attracts the female’s attention. The male also positions himself in front of the female, clapping his wings and snapping his bill together in an impressive display.


The Black-crested Coquette’s breeding season occurs from March to August. The birds breed in pairs, and the females choose their mates based on the male’s elaborate courtship displays.

After mating, the female constructs a small cup-shaped nest from soft plant materials like moss and spider webs. The nest is usually attached to a branch or leaf, often near a source of nectar.

A typical clutch contains two eggs, which are incubated for about 16-19 days. Once hatched, both parents take turns feeding the chicks, a task that takes about 20-22 days.

After fledging, the chicks remain with their parents for a few more days to learn the skills necessary for foraging and survival in their environment.

Demography and Populations

The population size of the Black-crested Coquette is unknown, but the bird’s populations are generally considered to be stable. In some areas, habitat loss due to human activities has had an impact on the populations of the birds.

The species is not currently classified as threatened or endangered, but its dependence on specific habitats and nectar sources means that conservation efforts are necessary to safeguard its populations. These efforts include preserving the forests and habitats where the birds feed and nest, limiting further habitat degradation, and creating conservation initiatives to protect the species.


The Black-crested Coquette exhibits a wide range of behaviors, including agile locomotion and territorial aggression. The bird’s unique hovering flight allows it to forage efficiently, while its aggressive territorial behavior helps defend its food sources from other birds.

During breeding season, male birds undertake elaborate courtship displays to attract females. Once mated, the female constructs a small nest, and both parents take turns feeding the chicks until they fledge.

Conservation initiatives must take into consideration the bird’s foraging and breeding behaviors to help protect its habitats and nectar-rich food sources. Understanding the Black-crested Coquette’s behavior enables us to better preserve and protect this unique hummingbird species.

In conclusion, the Black-crested Coquette is a unique and fascinating species of hummingbird. From its

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