The vast avian kingdom contains thousands of species that show a wide range of plumages, sizes, and shapes. Each species is adapted to a niche, and their morphology and behaviors are commonly associated with the given niche.
Examples of birds and their niches include the Osprey, which feeds on fish with its sharp talons; the Northern Cardinal, which eats fruit and seeds with its large beak; and Anna’s Hummingbird, which feeds on nectar using its long beak.
In the following article, we will explore the group of birds with small bodies but long beaks – many of which feed on nectar and other soft foods. Without further ado, here are 16 small birds with long beaks that you can see in various parts of the world, from the disproportionate Sword-billed Hummingbird to the brilliant kingfisher-like Rufous-tailed Jacamar.
1. Sword-billed Hummingbird (Ensifera ensifera)
The Sword-billed Hummingbird is one of the most unusual but spectacular-looking birds on this list and a perfect example of a small bird with a long beak. The standout feature of this species is its disproportionately long, thin beak, which is usually longer than the rest of the body. It has the longest beak-to-body ratio of any bird.
The males have a bronzy-copper head, a white spot behind each eye, dark bronze-green upperparts, dark brown flight feathers, a blackish throat, bright green sides, and a dark gray belly and chest. Females look similar to males, but their underparts are whiter, with dark green spots, and they have olive spots on their throats.
This hummingbird lives in the montane forests and forest edges of northwestern South America, where they remain all year round.
Owing to the shape of their bill, they feed predominantly on nectar in long tubular flowers and on insects and spiders, which provide protein.
2. Cerulean Kingfisher (Alcedo coerulescens)
The Cerulean Kingfisher is an exquisite small blue bird with a long beak. Males and females look relatively similar, showing mostly bright blue plumage, except for the white throat, belly, neck patches, and areas between the eye and beak. Females are generally less blue with a greenish tint.
This species occurs along river banks, streams, flooded paddy fields, ponds, mangroves, and estuaries. Their distribution is located in Indonesia, where they’re sedentary.
This kingfisher feeds primarily on fish, crustaceans, and insects.
3. Slender-billed Scimitar Babbler (Pomatorhinus superciliaris)
Slender-billed Scimitar Babblers have mostly orange-brown plumage and a long bill that curves downwards – most similar to the curved sword known as the scimitar. They have a dark gray head, a whitish throat, and a long white stripe above each eye.
This species is found in Southeast Asia, where they inhabit thickets and forests throughout the year.
Their diet consists of insects, spiders, and berries.
4. Little Spiderhunter (Arachnothera longirostra)
The Little Spiderhunter is a brilliant small bird with a long beak. This slender species has a long, thin, down-curved beak, an olive-green upper side with darker wings, a whitish throat and chest, a yellow belly, and a white and gray face. Males and females look similar.
Their habitat preferences include forests, mangroves, forest edges, plantations, and yards in South and Southeast Asia, where they are resident.
Their name indicates that they feed on spiders, but they also have other food sources, such as insects and nectar.
5. Eastern Spinebill (Acanthorhynchus tenuirostris)
The Eastern Spinebill is a small bird with a long beak occurring in Australia. In particular, they are found in the eastern parts of the continent, where they inhabit forests, woodlands, heathlands, parks, and yards.
This small bird has a down-curved, long, slender beak and well-patterned plumage consisting of whites, blacks, and reddish-oranges. On the head, they have a dark cap, which is black on males and gray on females, a black face mask, red eyes, a dark gray lower back and wings, a brown upper back, white outer tail feathers, a buff belly and flanks, a white chest with a dark border, and a dark brown throat patch.
This species is non-migratory and feeds on nectar, spiders, and insects.
6. Mountain Velvetbreast (Lafresnaya lafresnayi)
The Mountain Velvetbreast is a stunning little hummingbird with a shiny green upperside, throat, and chest, a velvety black belly, white tail feathers, a long, decurved beak, and a white spot behind each eye. The females differ from the males by having whitish-buff underparts with green spots.
This species occurs throughout the year in forests and forest edges at high altitudes in northwestern South America.
Their diet is mainly composed of nectar. They also sometimes feed on insects and spiders.
7. Greater Double-collared Sunbird (Cinnyris afer)
The Greater Double-collared Sunbird is a large sunbird with colorful plumage. The males are the most brightly colored with iridescent green heads and upper parts, dark wings and tails, a large red chest band, a gray belly and flanks, and a curved beak. They also display yellow pectoral tufts on their shoulders during courtship displays.
The females are rather plain, gray-brown overall, with a darker tail and wings.
They occur in many habitats, such as fynbos, forest edges, scrublands, woodlands, savannas, grasslands, parks, and yards.
You can find this sunbird species in southern Africa, where it remains all year round.
They feed on large amounts of nectar, but also insects and spiders.
8. Short-tailed Scimitar Babbler (Napothera danjoui)
The Short-tailed Scimitar Babbler is a small dark brown babbler with a long, slightly down-curved beak. They have a white throat and a grayish-brown face.
They use their unique beak to feed on insects and spiders, which they find in forests and dense thickets close to water sources.
They are found in Vietnam and Laos, where they generally remain sedentary.
9. Loten’s Sunbird (Cinnyris lotenius)
Loten’s Sunbird is a medium-sized sunbird with a long, decurved beak. Males have a glossy purple head, throat, and upperparts, a brownish tail and wings, a thin maroon band on the chest, and a gray-brown belly. They also have yellow and red pectoral tufts on their shoulders that are only visible during courtship displays.
Females look very different to males. They have gray upper parts with a darker tail and wings, while their underparts are pale whitish-yellow.
This sunbird inhabits woodlands, forests, shrublands, parks, and yards.
Their native range is in India and Sri Lanka, where they remain all year round.
The diet of this species consists of nectar, spiders, and insects.
10. White-eared Jacamar (Galbalcyrhynchus leucotis)
The large-billed, White-eared Jacamar is a chestnut-colored species with a pinkish-red beak. They have a bronzy sheen on the wings, tail, and crown, red eyes, and red surrounding the eyes. Their most distinctive feature is the white ear patch on each side of the head.
They live in the forests and forest edges of northwestern South America throughout the year.
This species feeds on insects.
11. Green Hermit (Phaethornis guy)
Green Hermit males have bright, iridescent blue-green plumage, dark wings and tails, a dark gray face mask, and a long, slightly down-curved reddish beak.
The females have sooty-gray upper parts with a green back, a gray belly, a dark face mask, and buff stripes on their faces. They also have a buff throat stripe, a longer bill, and longer tail feathers. Both sexes are complemented with long, white central tail feathers.
This species is native to Central America and northern South America, inhabiting forests and forest edges.
They are typically not migratory but may move in search of food such as nectar, insects, and spiders.
12. Long-billed Starthroat (Heliomaster longirostris)
The Long-billed Starthroat is a brilliant, relatively large hummingbird species that lives in southern Mexico, Central America, and northern South America.
The males of this species have a dark, purply-red throat, white mustache stripes, a light blue crown, a white spot behind each eye, a white rump patch, greenish flanks, and a very long, straight beak. They have bronze-green upperparts and gray underparts.
Females differ by having a green crown and a dusky-gray throat.
This species is found in forests, forest edges, woodlands, coffee plantations, and yards. It is an altitudinal migrant, moving from higher to lower elevations in winter.
They feed on nectar for sugars and insects and spiders for protein.
13. Streaked Spiderhunter (Arachnothera magna)
The Streaked Spiderhunter is a sedentary forest bird hailing from Southeast Asia.
This is a unique-looking species with black streaking all over the body and a long, decurved beak. In particular, this species has yellow-green upperparts and whitish-yellow underparts.
The diet of this bird consists of insects and nectar.
14. Long-billed Hermit (Phaethornis longirostris)
The Long-billed Hermit is a tiny bird with a long curved beak and long tail streamers. They have white malar stripes, a buff eyebrow stripe on the face, blackish cheeks, a buff throat stripe, whitish-gray underparts, dull green upperparts, a brownish-yellow rump, and a brown crown.
Their diet is composed of nectar, insects, and spiders.
Their habitat preference is forests, forest edges, and plantations in southern Mexico, Central America, and northern South America. This species is non-migratory.
15. Violet Sabrewing (Campylopterus hemileucurus)
The Violet Sabrewing is a stunning hummingbird species, with the males sporting violet plumage overall, a long beak, and white corners to the tail. Taking a closer look, the males have dark violet and blue underparts and dark green, blue, and violet upperparts. Females are greener on the underside and darker on the upper side. Both sexes have violet throats.
This species is found in southeastern Mexico, Central America, and northern South America, where it lives in evergreen forests and woody grasslands throughout the year.
Like other hummingbirds, this species feeds on nectar, as well as insects and spiders.
16. Rufous-tailed Jacamar (Galbula ruficauda)
The Rufous-tailed Jacamar is a small bird with a long beak and a long tail. This species has exquisite iridescent plumage and a dagger-like beak. Their plumage consists of a green head, coppery-green upper parts, blackish primaries, a coppery-green chest, a rufous-chestnut belly and undertail, a chestnut upper tail, and a white throat.
The females look similar to males but are duller and differ in throat color. The males have a white throat, while the females have a buffy throat.
They inhabit forests, forest edges, thickets, marshes, river banks, and savannahs with scattered trees in southern Mexico, Central America, and South America.
They feed on insects throughout the year.
As you can see, the list is dominated by bird species that fill the nectar-feeding niche, such as hummingbirds, sunbirds, and spiderhunters. The reason is that birds require particular adaptations to feed on nectar, and the long, slender beaks allow these species to probe into tubular flowers for their precious nectar.
There are also species of kingfishers, jacamars, and scimitar babblers with long beaks, but they have a different diet consisting mainly of spiders and insects. They use their long beaks to capture prey hiding in crevices or glean them from leaf surfaces without startling them.
The species with long beaks are adapted for survival and play crucial roles in the environment, as they are often essential pollinators within their habitats and contribute to the biodiversity and functioning of ecosystems.
Some of the species mentioned on the list have flashy plumage, while others are subdued and remain elusive in their habitats. The diets of the species on this list are often consistent throughout the year, so they are not migratory. However, they may make altitudinal migrations seasonally depending on food availability.