The Sword-Billed Hummingbird

Sword-Billed Hummingbird

Ernie Allison has been a “bird nerd” since he was a kid. He loves contributing to conservation efforts and spreading awareness to issues concerning birds and nature in general. Writing for has given him the opportunity to spread awareness as well as learn about hummingbird migration patterns himself.

In light of spring’s arrival, many people are putting out their hummingbird feeders. With over 300 species of hummingbirds, it is no surprise that only a few make their way up to North America. One of the many species native to South America is the easily recognizable Sword-billed Hummingbird.

Cool Facts about the Sword-Billed Hummingbird

• The average sword-billed hummingbird is 4-5 inches long, plus the bill, which can be anywhere from 2/3 the body length up, sometimes longer than the body itself!
• To match the long bill, these hummers have a long tongue to retrieve nectar from flowers and feeders.
• Everything about this bird is big. At 10-15 grams, it is one of the larger species of hummingbirds.

Taking a Stab at Filling a Niche

With a bill that prevents the bird from grooming itself conventionally (sword-billed hummingbirds use their feet), it is questionable how such a seemingly hindering trait evolved. This mystery is solved by looking at their eating habits.

Sword-billeds feed from long, deep flowers where the nectar is too far for traditional bills to reach. Thus, a giant bill was grown, and an already beautiful bird gained a distinctive silhouette. Often, these flowers hang downward, so that the hummingbirds hover beneath them and lap up nectar from below.

Isn’t That Sword a Bit Heavy?

Hummingbirds aren’t known for their heaviness, but they are known to defy their size. They metabolize food surprisingly quickly, consuming up to three times their body weight in a day. The bill of this species is longer and heavier than some other species altogether. And though the sword-bill does not have difficulties flying due to their bill, they do tend to perch with their bill straight up in the air in order to prevent neck issues. This also helps them maintain balance.

Since sword-billed hummingbirds live in warm regions such as Venezuela, Colombia, and Bolivia, they do not migrate. They lay two eggs at a time, and besides their eating habits are very similar to many common species of hummingbird. Despite their name, they don’t seem prone to sword fights, though hummingbirds are very aggressive and territorial. Whoever got the video of two sword-billed hummingbirds getting in a spat would have quite the sight indeed!


Photo Credit: jerryoldenettel via photopin cc

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