Native to Mexico and Central America, Mexican violetears are colorful hummingbirds with striking plumage. These medium-sized hummingbirds are only rare visitors to the United States, making them a sought-after species for serious birdwatchers. We cover 12 Mexican violetear facts to learn more about this beautiful species.
12 Mexican Violetear Facts
1. They are named for the iridescent purple ear-patch
The Mexican violetear is named for the iridescent purple or violet patch of feathers on the side of their head. This patch is unique to only a few violetear species, and helps them stand out from other hummingbirds.
Mexican violetears are brightly colored birds with shiny green plumage all over and a dark band on their tail. They sometimes display a purplish or bluish patch on their belly. They average around 3.8 – 4.7 inches, which is medium-sized for a hummingbird.
2. Mexican violetears lack sexual dimorphism
Unlike many other species of hummingbirds, Mexican violetears lack sexual dimorphism. This means there are not many visual characteristics such as plumage color or size that distinguish males and females. Both sexes are shiny green with darker wing-tips and have the violet “ear” patch. Sometimes the coloring is a little duller on the female.
3. Mexican violetears have a slightly curved beak
The beak of the Mexican violetear is black with a slightly curved beak. This is an adaptation to its diet of nectar and small insects, which it gathers from flowers.
Their slightly curved bills grow to around 2.5 cm and enclose a highly specialized tongue that can lap up nectar from long-tubed flowers. Mexican violetear tongues are bifurcated, meaning they are split into two parts near the tip. This gives them a greater surface area with which to lap up nectar.
4. Mexican violetears prefer highland forests
Mexican violetears are native to southern Mexico and south to Nicaragua, particularly in highland forests at elevations from 1,200 to 2,300 m. They prefer cool climates and high humidity, so they are usually found in the mountains or in moist forests but wander to lower altitudes in search of food.
5. Males have a mating call
The male Mexican violetears have a distinct call that helps them attract mates and defend their territories. The loud ‘tsu-tzeek’ sound is shrill and monotonous, occurring at a rate of about one note per second. These notes are sung from high above, allowing the sound to carry for the best chance of attracting females.
6. Mexican violetears feed on nectar and insects
Although these species primarily feed on nectar from flowers and flowering trees, they also eat small insects. They will spend much of their day feeding and can consume up to half their body weight in food each day.
Their fast metabolism means they must feed frequently. During the breeding season, females will also feed their young insects for protein and energy.
7. Males have a unique courtship display
Male Mexican violetears have a bold and impressive courtship display to attract mates. They begin by hovering above the female and then quickly fly down, circle around her, and then zip back up again. The U-shaped pattern is repeated several times, and the male will then often pause in mid-air to sing his courtship song.
They will repeat this behavior several times while vocalizing their signature song. This unique courtship behavior is an important part of the Mexican violetears’ mating ritual, as it helps the females to choose the strongest and healthiest mate.
8. Females raise their young alone
Once the female Mexican violetear lays her eggs, she is responsible for raising her young alone. The female will build a small nest out of plant material, spider webs, and down feathers.
She will then incubate the eggs for 14 to 18 days until they hatch. The chicks are born blind and helpless, and will be fed mainly insects to help them grow quickly with proper nutrition.
Nests are often built on low twigs in a well-protected area, and the female will fiercely protect her young from predators. Once they are ready to leave the nest, she will lead them on short flights before leaving them to fend for themselves.
9. They thrive in deforested areas
Deforested areas with lush vegetation and plenty of nectar-producing flowers are excellent foraging grounds for Mexican violetears. The birds have adapted to thrive in these human-altered habitats and can often be found near cities and towns where flower availability is high.
They also visit gardens and hummingbird feeders, taking advantage of the man-made food sources. This makes them easy to observe and study, giving researchers a better understanding of their behavior and ecology. Their adaptability also makes them resilient to human disturbance, allowing the species to maintain healthy population numbers despite habitat destruction.
10. They help pollinate plants
Like other types of hummingbirds, Mexican violetears feed on nectar from flowers and play an important role in the pollination of plants. By transferring pollen from one flower to another on their face and beak as they feed, the birds help increase genetic diversity in their environment and ensure that more plants can grow.
This is essential to maintaining a healthy and balanced ecosystem, making the Mexican violetear an important species in its habitat.
11. They are a rare find in the United States
While their official range does not include the U.S., some do wander across the boarder from Mexico. They have been spotted in most states in the eastern U.S., although extremely rarely. Texas, especially the southeast corner, is probably the best place for a potential sighting. For birdwatchers who make it a point to see as many different species as possible, spotting a Mexican violetear would be an exciting day indeed!
12. They camouflage their nests
The female Mexican violetear will often hide her nest deep in the branches of a tree, using lichens, plant material, and feathers to blend in with the surroundings. This camouflage helps protect the young from predators such as lizards, hawks, and other birds of prey.
Mary is an outdoor enthusiast, nature lover, and amateur birdwatcher that enjoys sharing her knowledge and experiences with others.