Coppery-headed Emerald Hummingbird Species

The Coppery-headed Emerald (Elvira cupreiceps) is a species of hummingbird found in Costa Rica and western Panama. With its glittering emerald green plumage and coppery-red head, it is one of the most strikingly beautiful hummingbirds in Central America.


The adult male Coppery-headed Emerald has brilliant emerald green upperparts and underparts, with a coppery-red crown and throat. The tail is blackish with white tips to the outer feathers. The long bill is straight and mostly black. Females are similar to males but have whitish tips to the outer tail feathers and lack the coppery head patch, instead having grey-green on the crown and whitish underparts. Juveniles resemble adult females but have buffy edges to the feathers.

This medium-sized hummingbird reaches about 9–10 cm in length and weighs 4–5 grams. The wingspan is approximately 5 cm.

Distribution and Habitat

The Coppery-headed Emerald is found along the Pacific slope of Costa Rica and western Panama. Its natural habitats are tropical moist lowland forests and foothill forests, up to elevations of 1000 m.

It occurs in both pristine and secondary forest areas. This species seems to prefer forest edges and openings and is often found near streams. It has also adapted well to gardens and agricultural landscapes dotted with trees and shrubs.

Diet and Feeding

Like other hummingbirds, the Coppery-headed Emerald feeds on nectar taken from a variety of colorful tropical flowers, including banana plants, heliconias, and various shrubs and trees. It uses its long, slender bill to drink the nectar while hovering in front of the flowers.

This species also consumes small insects, which are caught in flight or picked off leaves and branches. Insects provide an important source of protein. A few favorite insect foods are flies, beetles, moth scales, and tiny wasps.

Courtship and Breeding

During courtship displays, the male Coppery-headed Emerald hovers in front of the female and flies back and forth, zipping around her in aerial arcs and circles. If receptive to his advances, she will perch quietly watching him. He may also vocalize sharp twittering notes.

Nesting occurs from March to June. The tiny cup-shaped nest is constructed using plant down, fibers, and spider webs bound together with saliva. It is attached to a thin tree branch, often overhanging a stream.

The female lays two tiny white eggs. She incubates them alone for 15-19 days. The chicks hatch out almost featherless but grow quickly on a diet of regurgitated insects and nectar provided by the female. They fledge at about 20-26 days old.

Conservation Status

The Coppery-headed Emerald has a relatively small range and exists in fragmented populations. Habitat loss from deforestation poses the biggest threat. Parts of its range are protected, including Carara National Park in Costa Rica. Overall, its population trend seems to be decreasing but it remains relatively common in some protected areas.

The IUCN Red List categorizes this species as Least Concern. More research is needed to determine the size and stability of various populations. Eco-tourism, birdwatching tours, and preservation of tropical forests will also help ensure the future survival of this jewel-like hummingbird.

Interesting Facts

– The genus name Elvira commemorates Elvira Cupreiceps, an opera singer and the wife of Osbert Salvin, who collected the first specimen.

– With wings that can beat up to 70 times per second, hummingbirds are able to fly amazingly fast. The Coppery-headed Emerald can reach speeds of over 35 mph.

– A hummingbird’s heart rate can reach up to 1,260 beats per minute while in flight. Their rapid heartbeat and breathing allow the intense energy output needed for hovering and fast flying.

– Hummingbirds have uniquely structured feathers that produce iridescent colors. The colors do not come from pigments, but from the refracting of light off the feather surface structure. Gorget feathers on the male’s throat are specially adapted to produce bright iridescent colors.

– To conserve energy, hummingbirds go into a hibernation-like state called torpor at night and at times when food is scarce. Their metabolic rate slows down and body temperature drops.

– Hummingbirds have the largest brain relative to their body size of any bird species, likely an adaptation to control complex aerial maneuvers.

In summary, the Coppery-headed Emerald is a dazzling tropical hummingbird adapted to nectar-feeding with unique anatomical traits that enable its specialized lifestyle. Though threatened by habitat loss, it remains a fairly common species in protected forests of Costa Rica and Panama, where birdwatchers flock to admire its gleaming emerald and coppery plumage.