Male Frilled Coquettes like this beauty delight birders at feeders in Brazil, while non-frilled females live secret, unnoticed lives in the trees nearby.
By Rex Graham
The females usually avoid feeders. Instead, they forage on insects and flower nectar.
They carefully fashion cup nests during the August-to-March breeding season. During this precarious time, the females don’t want to be noticed, followed or stalked. Their nests are nearly invisible, and they adopt a stealthy, non-confrontational lifestyle to avoid discovery.
Brazilian biologists at the Santa Lúcia Biological Reserve about 8 km southeast of Santa Teresa – ES, Brazil, happened to notice a female and they decided to study her. They watched from a distance with binoculars. At first, the female didn’t seem to mind them.
Frilled Coquettes are found only in Brazil. They also nest in wildlife sanctuaries in the Brazilian Atlantic rainforest with the Slaty Bristlefront, Blue-bellied Parrot and other beautiful birds.
Frilled Coquette Females’ Complex Lives
At roughly 2.6 grams, the Frilled Coquette is one of the world’s smallest birds. While watching their female build a nest, the biologists documented her avoidance of larger birds. When mixed-species flocks passed near her nest, she left, returning only after the other birds were gone.
The biologists described in the journal Ornithologia Neotropical how the female methodically gathered tiny bits of plant down, moss and lichen. She used her lower bill to massage the materials into the walls of her home while she sat in it. Slowly, the nest took shape.
She alternated a few minutes of nest building with a few minutes of insect foraging or sipping nectar from nearby orange blossoms. Her routine abruptly changed when Rufous Attilas or other birds foraged nearby. At those times, the female would completely avoid her nest for an hour or more at a time.
Male Frilled Coquettes are less fearful, possibly using their small size to their advantage. They learn to slip under the bills of feeding Sombre Hummingbirds, which are notorious 7-9-gram feeder bullies. Female Fringed Coquettes avoid the Sombres by avoiding feeders.
One morning, while the biologist watched their female visit blossoms of a Jabuticaba fruit tree near her nest, a male Fork-tailed Woodnymph attacked her. Pairs of female Frilled Coquettes sometimes battle each other for control of a particular patch of nectar-producing flowers.
While incubating her two tiny eggs, the female Frilled Coquette continued to add tiny bits of fresh moss and lichen to the nest’s outside wall, which developed an outward-bending rim. During this time the female became increasingly aware of humans, occasionally flying toward one of the biologists to inspect her.
The hummingbird once left her nest for 47 minutes when a Rufous-tailed Attila, a tyrant flycatcher, built a nest in a bromeliad 15 m away.
The Frilled Coquette female usually alternated about 20 minutes of incubation with about 7 minutes of foraging.