Scaly-breasted Hummingbirds

Hummingbird Information

Scaly-breasted Hummingbird (Phaeochroa cuvierii)

The Scaly-breasted Hummingbird (Phaeochroa cuvierii) is a Central and South American hummingbird that ranges from Guatemala to northern Colombia.


Distribution / Range

The Scaly-breasted Hummingbird is found in the following countries: Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia. It is fairly common in the Pacific lowlands of Costa Rica; but it is uncertain if this species is a regular in Mexico.

Their preferred habitats includes moist lowlands and foothils, including forest, mangroves, coffee plantations and open areas with scattered tall trees (particularly if blooming).


Scaly-breasted Hummingbird (Phaeochroa cuvierii) Subspecies and Distribution

    • Phaeochroa cuvierii cuvierii - Nominate Race
      • Range: East and central Panama

    • Phaeochroa cuvierii roberti
      • Range: Atlantic slope of Belize, and Guatemala to Costa Rica (and possible even Mexico)
      Phaeochroa cuvierii maculicauda
      • Range: Pacific slope of Costa Rica
      Phaeochroa cuvierii saturatior
      • Range: Coiba Island - a large island located off the Pacific coast of the Panamanian province of Veraguas
      Phaeochroa cuvierii berlepschi
      • Range: Coastal northern Colombia


The Scaly-breasted Hummingbird is a rather large hummingbird that averages 4.5 inches or 11.5 cm in length.

The plumage is fairly pain; the upper plumage is metallic bronze-green and the under plumage mostly greyish / buff. It has a dark blue-green tail with white tips on the outer tail feathers. The throat and chest feathers are dull green with greyish buff edging - producing the effect of scales - for which it was named. It has a small whitish spot behind each eye.

It has a long bill; the upper bill is black and the lower is reddish with a black tip.

Males and females look alike.


Scaly-breasted Hummingbird (Phaeochroa cuvierii)Nesting / Breeding

Hummingbirds are solitary in all aspects of life other than breeding; and the male's only involvement in the reproductive process is the actual mating with the female. They neither live nor migrate in flocks; and there is no pair bond for this species. Males court females by flying in a u-shaped pattern in front of them. He will separate from the female immediately after copulation. One male may mate with several females. In all likelihood, the female will also mate with several males. The males do not participate in choosing the nest location, building the nest or raising the chicks.

The female is responsible for building the cup-shaped nest out of plant fibers woven together and green moss on the outside for camouflage in a protected location in a shrub, bush or tree. She lines the nest with soft plant fibers, animal hair and feather down, and strengthens the structure with spider webbing and other sticky material, giving it an elastic quality to allow it to stretch to double its size as the chicks grow and need more room. The nest is typically found on a low, thin horizontal branch.

The average clutch consists of two white egg,s which she incubates alone, while the male defends his territory and the flowers he feeds on. The young are born blind, immobile and without any down.

The female alone protects and feeds the chicks with regurgitated food (mostly partially-digested insects since nectar is an insufficient source of protein for the growing chicks). The female pushes the food down the chicks' throats with her long bill directly into their stomachs.

As is the case with other hummingbird species, the chicks are brooded only the first week or two, and left alone even on cooler nights after about 12 days - probably due to the small nest size. The chicks leave the nest when they are about 20 days old.


Diet / Feeding

The Scaly-breasted Hummingbirds primarily feed on nectar taken from a variety of brightly colored, scented small flowers of trees, herbs, shrubs and epiphytes. They favor flowers with the highest sugar content (often red-colored and tubular-shaped) and seek out, and aggressively protect, those areas containing flowers with high energy nectar.They use their long, extendible, straw-like tongues to retrieve the nectar while hovering with their tails cocked upward as they are licking at the nectar up to 13 times per second. Sometimes they may be seen hanging on the flower while feeding.

However, it has been observed that the Scaly-breasted Hummingbird tends to pierce the *calyx of a flower to get to the nectar. (*Calyx: the green leaves that embrace the petals - they are in most cases green and petal-shaped).

Many native and cultivated plants on whose flowers these birds feed heavily rely on them for pollination. The mostly tubular-shaped flowers actually exclude most bees and butterflies from feeding on them and, subsequently, from pollinating the plants.

They may also visit local hummingbird feeders for some sugar water, or drink out of bird baths or water fountains where they will either hover and sip water as it runs over the edge; or they will perch on the edge and drink - like all the other birds; however, they only remain still for a short moment.

They also take some small spiders and insects - important sources of protein particularly needed during the breeding season to ensure the proper development of their young. Insects are often caught in flight (hawking); snatched off leaves or branches, or are taken from spider webs. A nesting female can capture up to 2,000 insects a day.

Males establish feeding territories, where they aggressively chase away other males as well as large insects - such as bumblebees and hawk moths - that want to feed in their territory. They use aerial flights and intimidating displays to defend their territories.

This aggressive species often drives smaller hummingbirds away.


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