Hummingbirds are some of the most beautiful and captivating birds found in nature. Known for their small size, bright iridescent plumage, and ability to hover and fly backwards, hummingbirds have fascinated people for centuries. There are over 300 different species of hummingbirds spread throughout the Americas, with most species found in Central and South America. While all hummingbirds have unique and charming qualities, some species stand out for their particularly stunning appearance and behavior.
One of the most striking hummingbird species is the Violet Sabrewing. As its name suggests, these hummingbirds have vibrant violet plumage on their wings, tails, and undersides. The Violet Sabrewing is a larger hummingbird, with some individuals reaching up to 8.5 inches in length. They inhabit mountain forests in Costa Rica, Panama, Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador. The striking violets and purples of the male Violet Sabrewing shine brightly in the shade of the forest. Females of the species lack the bright violet colors but are still gorgeous with their gray-green plumage. Violet Sabrewings have a distinctive appearance and put on aerial displays by flying high up and then diving down across forest clearings.
The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is one of the most charming and widespread hummingbird species in North America. These tiny birds grow to only around 3 inches long but migrate huge distances. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds fly 500 miles nonstop across the Gulf of Mexico each spring and fall as they migrate between Central America and North America. Ruby-throats get their name from the iridescent ruby-red throat patch on the males. This bright flash of color glitters in the sunlight when the birds hover at flowers. Ruby-throats are skilled aerialists, flying backwards and hovering with high-speed wing beats. Their metallic green backs and gray-white undersides camouflage well in forests and meadows. Ruby-throats charm people by visiting backyard feeders and flower gardens across much of North America.
The Bluethroat Hummingbird displays some of the most vibrant plumage of any hummingbird species. Native to the mountains of Arizona, New Mexico and the Chihuahuan Desert, these hummingbirds live in rugged, rocky habitat. Male Bluethroats are unmistakable with their bright turquoise throat patch and glittering violet-blue crown. Their dark tails have an eye-catching white spot on each feather. Females do not have the same colorful plumage but do share the bold white-dotted tail markings. Bluethroats get their name from the males’ brilliant aqua blue throats, which seem to glow against the birds’ gray-brown bodies. A flash of color darts by as a male Bluethroat zooms from flower to flower in desert washes.
The Crimson Topaz is one of the most gorgeously colored hummingbirds in the world. These hummingbirds are aptly named for their jewel-like plumage in sparkling crimson, orange, green, and blue. Crimson Topaz hummingbirds are endemic to the mountains of central Colombia. Males are unmistakable with their crimson cap on the top of the head and bright orange belly and tail coverts. In bright sunlight, these colors glow like burning embers. The Crimson Topaz’s wings flash an iridescent turquoise and green in flight. Females have more subtle plumage in olive green, gray, and white. Despite their small size, Crimson Topaz hummingbirds zealously defend their flower-rich mountain habitat.
Few sights in nature can match the shimmering plumage of the Costa’s Hummingbird. Found along the Pacific Coast of Mexico and the southwestern United States, these hummingbirds wow viewers with their flashy head and gorget feathers. The males’ throats appear white in some lights but erupt with brilliant violet, blue, and green hues in others. Their crowns and faces are an equally stunning array of blues, greens, and purple. This barrage of colors results in the Costa’s Hummingbird being one of the most vibrantly plumed hummingbirds anywhere they are found. The smaller females share more subtle versions of these beautiful colors across their feathers. Costa’s Hummingbirds thrive in deserts and dry scrublands, with their radiant colors providing a visual feast.
The Marvelous Spatuletail boasts one of the most unique and extraordinary tails found in the hummingbird world. Native to a small area of northern Peru, the male Marvelous Spatuletail has two long racquet-shaped outer tail feathers that end in large purple “spatules.” These tail feathers are longer than the bird’s body and shimmer in violet, blue, and green. When the males gather to display, they whir these tail racquets in captivating patterns to attract females. Beyond the gorgeous tail feathers, male Marvelous Spatuletails also have a brilliant turquoise crown and gorget. When seen dancing through the forest, this species lives up to its name of being truly marvelous. The smaller females lack the long spatule tail feathers but retain the beautiful turquoise and violet neck and head feathers.
The colorfully named Red-tailed Comet is a charming hummingbird that lives up to its name by streaking across the sky. Found in Costa Rica and Panama, these medium-sized hummingbirds have vibrant orange beaks, white undersides, and bright red tails. During their courtship displays, male Red-tailed Comets climb hundreds of feet into the air before diving back down past perched females. Their sharply angled red tail feathers whir loudly during these plunging dives, sounding like a race car zooming by. The males also have a distinctive orange face patch that seems to glow when backlit by sunlight. Females share the red tail markings but lack the bright orange facial plumage. The Red-tailed Comets put on a charming aerial show with their blazing red tails tracing lines across the sky.
Ecuador is home to an exceptionally beautiful hummingbird called the Sapphire-vented Puffleg. As their name denotes, male Sapphire-vented Pufflegs have deep blue vent feathers under their tails. This sapphire coloring contrasts elegantly with the white thigh tufts and underparts on the rest of their bodies. The males also have matching sapphire gorgets bordered by white foreneck collars. Females do not have the bright blue plumage but do share the elegant white tufts, collar, and underparts. Sapphire-vented Pufflegs live high in the Andes Mountains, feeding on nectar from bright mountain flowers. When the sun hits their sapphire feathers just right, it is a sparkling sight to behold.
The Esmeraldas Woodstar is one of the most vibrantly colored and endangered hummingbird species in the world. Found only along a remote stretch of Pacific coastline in Ecuador, these rare hummingbirds number fewer than 1,000 individuals. Male Esmeraldas Woodstars look like flying jewels with their deep violet crowns, emerald green throats, and masses of iridescent plumage in shimmering aqua, green, and yellow. Females do not have the same spectacular coloration but are still beautiful in their mix of grays and greens. Esmeraldas Woodstars already have an extremely limited range, and their habitat is threatened by development. Birdwatchers who are lucky enough to spot these stunningly colorful hummingbirds will hope that conservation efforts can preserve the species.
While all hummingbirds have an appeal with their diminutive size, dazzling aerial abilities, and high metabolism, some species stand out as particularly captivating. Hummingbirds like the Violet Sabrewing, Ruby-throated, Bluethroat, Crimson Topaz, Costa’s, Marvelous Spatuletail, Red-tailed Comet, Sapphire-vented Puffleg, and Esmeraldas Woodstar showcase the most beautifully colored plumage and charming behaviors found among hummingbirds. With over 300 species of hummingbirds, there are many more gorgeous and charming species to discover. As long as their specialized habitat is protected, these feathered jewels will continue to captivate us with their beauty. Whether it’s their sparkling plumage, aerial stunts, or energetic personality, charming hummingbirds will always hold a special place in the natural world.