Honduran emerald (Amazilia luciae)

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Honduran emerald on a branch
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Honduran emerald fact file

Honduran emerald description

KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderApodiformes
FamilyTrochilidae
GenusAmazilia (1)

Central America’s rarest bird, the Honduran emerald is known from only a small, arid region of Honduras (4). This attractive mid-sized hummingbird has a typically vibrant plumage, with a glittering turquoise throat and breast, metallic golden-green upperparts, and a bronze tail (2). The black and red bill is straight and the tail is slightly forked (2) (5). In common with many other hummingbirds, the Honduran emerald displays marked sexual dimorphism, with the somewhat duller female lacking the striking colouration of the male (2). Juveniles resemble the female, but have distinctive buff coloured feathers on the side of the tail and a greyish throat (2) (6).

Spanish
Amazilia Hondureña, Esmeralda Hondurena.
Size
Head-body length: 9 – 10 cm (2)
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Honduran emerald biology

The diminutive hummingbirds display remarkable manoeuvrability in flight, capable of hovering whilst feeding, with up to 200 wing beats per second. Owing to this energy-demanding behaviour, hummingbirds feed almost exclusively on nectar, the carbohydrate-rich sugar secretions of plants, feeding from as many as 1,000 to 2,000 flowers each day. Hummingbirds also have the highest oxygen requirement of any vertebrate and, as a result, have a breathing rate of up to 500 breaths per minute and uniquely structured lungs. These physiological adaptations have allowed hummingbirds to occupy a vast array of habitats and altitudes throughout the Americas (7)

Very little is known about the biology of the Honduran emerald, but it is known to feed from the flowers of a variety of plants, including several cacti and bromeliads (5) (6). It will also alight upon a perch, up to ten metres above the ground, and make repeated forays to catch insects on the wing (2). The breeding biology of the Honduran emerald has not yet been studied; however, in common with other hummingbirds, it is likely that males are territorial and attract mates with elaborate aerial courtship displays. Males may mate with several females, but the females are responsible for nest construction and raising the offspring (7).

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Honduran emerald range

The Honduran emerald is endemic to the arid interior valleys of Honduras. Once considered extinct, it was not recorded between 1950 and 1988, until it was rediscovered at several fragmented locations. It is primarily found in the northeast of the country, in the upper Río Aguán valley, the Agalta valley and Valle de Telica, but it has also been recently discovered in six forest fragments in the west (5).

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Honduran emerald habitat

The Honduran emerald is only found in very dry thorn-forest and scrub, a habitat unique to Honduras, up to an elevation of 1,220 metres above sea level (5).

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Honduran emerald status

Classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1) and listed on Appendix II of CITES (3).

IUCN Red List species status – Endangered

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Honduran emerald threats

As the Honduran emerald is restricted to dry thorn-forests, its survival is dependant upon the prevalence of this habitat. Unfortunately, dry thorn-forests are the most endangered ecosystem in Honduras, and have been reduced by a drastic 90 percent. Vast areas of thorn-forest have been converted to rice and pineapple plantations and cattle pastures, while urbanisation and agriculture continue to encroach upon the Honduran emerald’s habitat  (5) (6). In the Río Aguán valley, only 84 square kilometres of suitable Honduran emerald habitat remains, while in the Agalta valley, there is less than one square kilometre. Furthermore, much of the remaining habitat is privately owned for cattle grazing, and receives no form of protection. Consequently, the population of the Honduran emerald is now critically small, and it is considered the rarest bird in Central America, and one of the most endangered birds in the world (4) (5) (8) (9)

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Honduran emerald conservation

In Honduras, a small, poor country with a rapidly growing economy, conservation is a major challenge (6). However, the American Bird Conservancy is working to ensure the rare Honduran emerald is afforded increased protection through the acquisition of 30 square kilometres of suitable habitat (4) (5). The Fundación Pico Bonito, a Honduran conservation organisation, has also successfully secured funding from the World Bank to invest in habitat protection, and to mitigate the effects of planned road constructions (6). The Honduran emerald will also benefit from numerous other proposed measures, including the extension of the Sierra de Agalta National Park to encompass the species’ range, the establishment of a network of protected areas, and further studies into the species’ ecology (5) (6) (9). It is also hoped that promoting the Critically Endangered Honduran emerald as a symbol of national conservation will highlight its plight and educate local people of the value of conservation (6).     

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.
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Find out more

For more information on the conservation of the Honduran emerald, see: 

For more information of the conservation of hummingbirds, see: 

For more information on this and other bird species please see:

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Authentication

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

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Glossary

Endemic
A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
Sexual dimorphism
When males and females of the same species differ in appearance.
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References

  1. IUCN Red List (March, 2010)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1994) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 5: Barn-Owls to Hummingbirds. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. CITES (March, 2010)
    http://www.cites.org/
  4. American Bird Conservancy (March, 2010)
    http://www.abcbirds.org/
  5. BirdLife International (March, 2010)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SpcHTMDetails.asp&sid=1934&m=0
  6. Anderson, D. (2008) Before the secretary of the interior: a petition to list the Honduran emerald (Amazilia luciae) as an endangered species pursuant to the U.S. Endangered Species Act of 1973. The Hummingbird Conservancy, Butte, US.
  7. Perrins, C. (2009) The Encyclopedia of Birds. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  8. House, P., Cerrato, C. and Daan Vreugdenhil, I. (2002) Rationalisation of the protected areas system of Honduras. Volume 2: Biodiversity of Honduras. World Institute for Conservation and Environment, Shepherdstown, US.
  9. Hirschfeld, E. (2008) Rare Birds Yearbook 2009. MagDig Media Limited, UK.
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Image credit

Honduran emerald on a branch  
Honduran emerald on a branch

© Dominic Sherony

Dominic Sherony
http://www.flickr.com/photos/9765210@N03/

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