Long-tailed Woodnymph Hummingbird Species

The Long-tailed Woodnymph Hummingbird (Thalurania watertonii) is a species of hummingbird found in the mountainous regions of Costa Rica and western Panama. With its vibrant green plumage and extraordinarily long tail feathers, this species is considered one of the most beautiful and striking hummingbirds in the world.


The Long-tailed Woodnymph is a medium-sized hummingbird, measuring around 11-12 cm in length. As its name suggests, the most distinctive feature of this bird is its exceptionally long tail feathers, which can measure up to 10 cm in the males. The tail comprises around 60% of the bird’s total body length. Both sexes have bright emerald green upperparts and underparts, with the males having a vivid purple crown and throat. The long forked tail is mostly black, with bold white tips to the outer tail feathers. The bill is long, straight and black.

This stunning hummingbird inhabits humid broadleaf and pine-oak forests at elevations between 900-2000 meters. It has a wide geographic range, being found on the Caribbean slopes of the Talamanca Mountains in Costa Rica, and westwards into the Cordillera de Talamanca in Panama. Within its forest habitat, the Long-tailed Woodnymph prefers forest edges, openings, ravines and streams. It is an active and agile species, constantly on the move as it feeds on nectar from blooming flowers and small insects.

Taxonomy and naming

The Long-tailed Woodnymph is placed in the hummingbird family Trochilidae and the subfamily Trochilinae. It belongs to the diverse genus Thalurania, commonly known as woodnymphs, which comprises around 22 small and medium sized hummingbird species found in North, Central and South America. The species was first described by the American ornithologist George Newbold Lawrence in 1867, based on a specimen collected in Costa Rica. He gave it the scientific name Thalurania watertoni, honoring the British naturalist Charles Waterton.

There are three recognized subspecies of the Long-tailed Woodnymph:

– T. w. watertonii – Found in the Talamanca Mountains of Costa Rica. Nominate subspecies.

– T. w. viridipectus – Ranges along the Caribbean slopes of western Panama. Slightly larger with more extensive green on underparts.

– T. w. fannyae – Restricted to a small region of west Panama. Similar to nominate but smaller. Considered endangered.

The common name ‘woodnymph’ refers to these birds’ association with forest habitats. The ‘long-tailed’ descriptor clearly distinguishes this species from other woodnymphs based on the extraordinary length of its tail feathers.

Description and Identification

The Long-tailed Woodnymph is unmistakable within its range due to its combination of bright emerald green plumage and exceptionally long tail. Adult males can be identified by the brilliant purple crown and gorget (throat feathers). Females lack the purple markings and have slightly shorter tails. Both sexes have vibrant green upperparts and underparts, with a small patch of whitish feathers on the flanks. The tail is mostly blackish-blue with bold white tips to the outer three pairs of feathers. The bill is straight, slender and black. Legs and feet are also blackish.

The long, deeply forked tail is this bird’s most outstanding feature. It makes up over half of the bird’s total length and is significantly longer in males. The tail shape is unique among hummingbirds, with the outermost feathers measuring almost 10 cm in the male. These taper gradually into the middle pair of short, wedge-shaped feathers. In flight, the woodnymph’s tail is spread widely like a fan, showing off the dramatic white tips.

Young birds resemble adult females but have shorter tails, darker bills, and buffy edges to the green plumage. The purple markings start to appear in immature males from around 6 months old.

Voice and Sounds

The voice of the Long-tailed Woodnymph is a very high-pitched, thin tseep, sometimes repeated in a faster series when agitated or chasing intruders. Both males and females vocalize in this manner to communicate around feeding territories and when interacting at flowers. The wings produce a soft humming sound in flight, which becomes a buzzing drone during courtship dives.

Distribution and Habitat

This hummingbird is endemic to the Talamanca Mountains region straddling southeastern Costa Rica and western Panama. Its breeding range extends along the Caribbean slopes from southeastern Costa Rica through Chiriquí and Bocas del Toro provinces in western Panama. There is also an isolated endangered population in the Serranía de Tabasará in west Panama.

Throughout this range, the Long-tailed Woodnymph inhabits subtropical and tropical montane forests at elevations of 900 – 2000 m. It prefers primary broadleaf evergreen forest, especially near edges and clearings, but also occurs in pine-oak woodlands, second growth, and gardens or plantations with flowering plants. The species is associated with foothill and lower montane zones where flowering plants and arthropod prey are abundant.

Feeding Ecology

Like all hummingbirds, the Long-tailed Woodnymph feeds on energy-rich nectar taken from blooming flowers using its specialized tubular tongue. It also eats small insects and spiders which provide essential proteins, minerals and fats. The main food plants include various species from the families Rubiaceae, Ericaceae, Heliconiaceae and Gesneriaceae. Favored nectar sources include plants like Cavendishia, Disterigma, Besleria, Centropogon and orchids. The woodnymph uses its slender bill to access nectar from tubular flowers.

This agile and acrobatic flier gleans tiny insects from leaves and branches by precision hovering. It can also snatch insects in flight, especially small flies, mosquitoes and gnats that occur in swarms along forest edges. The Long-tailed Woodnymph’s metabolism is exceptionally fast, so it must feed frequently throughout the day to meet its high energy requirements. Food is digested quickly, allowing a high intake rate of calories.

Behavior and Ecology

The Long-tailed Woodnymph is a solitary and territorial species, with the males defending favored feeding areas from intruders. They are highly aggressive despite their small size, chasing off other hummingbirds with persistent diving attacks. Their territorial behavior is most pronounced from December to April during the breeding season. Males perform elaborate courtship displays, flying in U-shaped patterns and diving repeatedly in front of females with the tail spread wide and buzzing loudly.

After mating, the female alone builds a small cup-shaped nest on a low horizontal branch or tree fern frond, using plant fibers bound with spider webs. She lays just two tiny white eggs. The female incubates the eggs for 15-19 days until they hatch. The chicks fledge after about 20-26 days in the nest.

Like many hummingbird species of montane forest habitats, the Long-tailed Woodnymph migrates altitudinally to follow the seasonal flowering of nectar plants. In the dry season between January to April, it ranges to higher elevations from 1300 to 2000 m while breeding. During the wet season from May to December, it descends to lower, warmer elevations between 900 to 1500 m where more flowers bloom after the rains.

Status and Conservation

The Long-tailed Woodnymph has a fairly widespread distribution across suitable mountain forest habitats. Although its population trend has not been quantified, the species is not considered globally threatened. However, the IUCN Red List classifies it as Near Threatened because its specialized habitat is declining in extent and becoming fragmented due to deforestation. The subspecies T. w. fannyae of west Panama is restricted to a small range and listed as Endangered with fewer than 1000 individuals remaining.

Across its range, the major threat is loss of primary montane evergreen forest due to land clearing for cattle ranching and agriculture. Climate change may also pose a long-term threat by altering the flowering cycles and distributions of key nectar food plants. Eco-tourism and observation of hummingbirds does not negatively impact wild populations if properly managed. Conservation actions focus on habitat protection in protected areas and raising awareness of this unique species. Identifying key breeding and feeding areas to conserve is an important goal for future surveys and monitoring.


The Long-tailed Woodnymph is one of Central America’s most ornately plumed and striking hummingbird species. Its incredibly long, forked tail and vibrant emerald green plumage instantly capture the attention of birders and nature enthusiasts when observed. While not considered globally threatened, habitat loss in its specialized mountain forest ecosystem poses concerns for the future of this range-restricted tropical hummingbird. Ongoing conservation efforts across remaining protected forests are needed to ensure the species persists far into the future. With appropriate habitat conservation and ecotourism management, the spectacular Long-tailed Woodnymph will continue to illuminate Costa Rica and Panama’s montane forests with its dazzling, colorful beauty.