Sword-billed Hummingbird, Ensifera ensifera

2010 January 28
by David J. Ringer

VICKSBURG, MISS. — At middle elevations in the northern Andes Mountains lives a hummingbird with a bill so spectacularly elongated that it sets its owner apart from all other birds. The Sword-billed Hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera) is the only bird with a bill longer than the rest of its body.


A female Sword-billed Hummingbird. Sword-bills (whose genus and species name, ensifera, means “sword-bearing” in scholarly Latin) have bills 3 1/2 to 4 inches long, which is wildly disproportionate to the rest of their skeletons.


A male.


Sword-billed Hummingbirds and plants with long, tubular flowers like this Passiflora (passionflower) have a special relationship. Sword-bills are the only birds that can reach nectar deep inside the corollas, and in the process of doing that, they transfer pollen from flower to flower. (Can anyone identify this Passiflora to species? I gather it’s difficult.)


And of course, the birds’ tongues are even longer!


All this specialized equipment makes sword-bills look awkwardly spectacular at feeders designed for much smaller birds. Sword-billed Hummingbirds can have bills four inches long, but North American Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are only about 3 1/2 inches in total length including bill and tail!


Check out those pink toes and long black claws.


All pictures taken at Yanacocha and Guango Lodge in Ecuador. This is part two of a series on Ecuador. See more: Pululahua 2010.

Related posts:

  1. Trying something new with images
  2. Rufous Hummingbird overwintering in Ozark, Mo.
  3. ¡Voy a Ecuador!
  4. Sulphur-billed Nuthatch
  5. One-footed Ring-billed Gull
7 Responses
  1. January 29, 2010

    Wow! What an impressive bill. Such fascinating birds. Beautiful without a doubt, but the bill adds a whole new spin to their visage.

    (And I can’t help with the flower. Sorry!)

  2. January 29, 2010

    Congratulations on the impressive set of pictures, not only you have a wonderful pair of eyes but your photographic scores are pretty high. Also note that the Swordbilled also feeds on the Brugmansia flowers like the Brugmansia arborea and the Brugmansia sanguinea which are also abundant here in the Andes.

  3. January 29, 2010

    Today at lunch I was talking a with a friend who is working on a dictionary for one of the Ecuadorian languages. She said she had a bird supplement to the main dictionary, including the names of over 250 birds of Ecuador in vernacular, Spanish, English and some in Quichua as well as the scientific names.

    Your photos are lots of fun.

  4. Fregata permalink
    January 30, 2010

    envy envy. What a fabulous bird. Love those toes and claws.
    I haven’t yet figured out how to watch birds and take their photos at the same time – so am pleased that you have.

  5. February 6, 2010

    Great pictures. Thank you enjoyed the site.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. The beakiest bird « Why Evolution Is True
  2. Sword-billed Hummingbird

Comments are closed.