Red-legged Honeycreeper

(Cyanerpes cyaneus)

FUN FACT

Unlike most tropical passerines, the male Red-legged Honeycreeper has an "eclipse" color phase outside the breeding season, when he is a dull olive-green, much like the female. When breeding season is over, he moults into a fresh coat of olive-green, and the process begins all over again.

One look at the Red-legged Honeycreeper and it's easy to see where it gets its name.  Largest of the Cyanerpes honeycreepers at about 12 centimeters long, both male and female Red-legged Honeycreepers sport bright, candy-red legs and a long, sharp bill that's almost as recognizable as their legs.  Males in breeding plumage are a brilliant blue, with azure cap and black wings and tail.  Yellow underwing coverts flash conspicuously when the birds are in flight.  Females are olive-green above and paler below; males in eclipse plumage resemble the females, but retain their black wings and tails.

The Honeycreeper's thin, downward-curving bill is an adaptation to nectar-eating, but also allows the Honeycreeper specialized access to fruit and insects.  Honeycreepers are able to reach into the narrow cracks of ripening arillate fruit husks to nip bits off the rich arils inside, long before birds with shorter, heavier bills can reach them.  In the same way, the bill fits neatly into cracks in tree bark and behind twisting vines to pluck out insects too small and hidden for other birds to find.  These tiny insects, in fact, make up the majority of the Red-legged Honeycreeper's diet.

Common and widespread throughout its range, the Red-legged Honeycreeper is currently not considered threatened.  However, "harvesting" of the Red-legged Honeycreeper is allowed in Mexico for part of the year, most likely to supply the pet and caged bird trade.

Distribution

From southeast Mexico through Panama to Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador & Peru.

Habitat

Forests and forest edges, including around cacao and shade-grown coffee plantations, where trees have been only partially cleared.

Diet

Primarily insects, significantly more than other tanagers. Also tiny berries and fleshy arils, and nectar when seasonally available.

Breeding

Nest are constructed exclusively by the female, and she does all the incubation and brooding for the pair's two eggs. Eggs hatch in 12-14 days, and chicks fledge around 14 days later. Both parents feed the chicks. Spiders are a favorite!

Status

Not Under Threat (Least Concern)

At the Aviary

Visit the Red-legged Honeycreeper in The Canary's Call.