Purple-throated Mountaingem Hummingbird Species

The Purple-throated Mountaingem (Lampornis fuscicollis) is a species of hummingbird found in the mountainous regions of Costa Rica and western Panama. With its metallic purple throat and white chest feathers, it is one of the most striking hummingbirds in Central America.


The Purple-throated Mountaingem is a mid-sized hummingbird, measuring around 11-12 cm in length. The male has glossy green upperparts and white underparts. As the name suggests, the male has a brilliant metallic violet-purple throat. The female is similar but lacks the purple throat, instead having grey-white underparts.

The Purple-throated Mountaingem inhabits mountain forests and woodlands at elevations between 1500-3000 m. It occupies both temperate and tropical zones, being found in areas that have cool, misty conditions as well as humid, mossy cloud forests.

Evolution and Taxonomy

The Purple-throated Mountaingem belongs to the lampornis genus, which consists of over a dozen species of mountain gem hummingbirds found across Mexico, Central America, and northern South America. These hummingbirds are medium-sized with elongated bills adapted for feeding on long tubular flowers.

The Purple-throated Mountaingem was first scientifically described in 1853 by the French naturalist Rene Primevere Lesson, who gave it the scientific name Heliomaster fuscicollis. It has also been classified in the genera Heliangelus and Eugenes before being placed in the genus Lampornis. Within the genus, it is most closely related to the Blue-throated Mountaingem.


The brilliant purple throat is the most distinguishing feature of the male Purple-throated Mountaingem. The purple only covers the throat, with the rest of the underparts being clean white. The upperparts and tail are mostly iridescent golden-green, although the uppertail coverts are rufous-chestnut colored. The bill is long, straight and black. The legs are also blackish.

Females lack the purple throat, having grey-white underparts instead. Juveniles resemble the female but have buffy colored edges to the feathers on the throat and chest.

In flight, the broad white panels on the undersides of the outer tail feathers are noticeable. The purple throat of the male is also obvious in flight. This species has a direct and rapid flight style, with frequent hovering when feeding on flowers.

The call is a sharp mid-pitched ‘chip’, often given in a rapid series. The male’s song is a warbled and squeaky series of notes.

Distribution and Habitat

The Purple-throated Mountaingem is endemic to the mountains of Costa Rica and western Panama. In Costa Rica, it is widespread across the Cordillera Central and Cordillera de Talamanca mountain ranges. In Panama, it is found in the highlands of Chiriqui and Veraguas provinces.

This hummingbird inhabits cloud forests, mossy forests, and elfin woodlands at elevations between 1500-3000 m. It favors areas with abundant epiphytes and dense vegetation. It is also found along forest edges and in secondary growth. Across its elevational range, it occurs in subtropical lower montane wet forests as well as cooler high montane oak and pine-oak forests.

Ecology and Behavior

The Purple-throated Mountaingem feeds on nectar taken from a variety of flowering plants and epiphytic plants. Favorite food plants include species from the Ericaceae, Gesneriaceae, and Bromeliaceae families. It also takes small insects to supplement its diet with protein.

Males are territorial and maintain feeding territories, using prominent perches to sing and chase away intruders. They perform courtship flights to impress females, flying in pendulum arcs above and in front of the female while singing loudly.

This species is thought to be partially migratory, with some individuals moving to lower elevations in the non-breeding season while others remain resident year-round. Further research is needed on their migratory patterns.

Breeding takes place between April and July. The nest is a small cup built by the female, constructed from soft plant fibers and camouflaged with moss and lichens. It is attached to a vertical substrate such as a tree fern or branch. The female lays 2 tiny white eggs. She alone incubates the eggs and cares for the young.


The Purple-throated Mountaingem has a relatively widespread distribution across Costa Rica and Panama and can be locally common within its mountain habitat. However, its specialized habitat preferences make it vulnerable to deforestation. Habitat loss from logging, agriculture, and development is a threat, especially at lower elevation sites. Climate change may also have long-term impacts by shifting the elevational range of its preferred cloud forest habitat.

Fortunately, it does tolerate some habitat disturbance and can be found in fragmented and secondary growth forests if sufficient flowers and nesting sites are available. Many key sites are also located within protected areas. Overall, its population appears to be stable and the Purple-throated Mountaingem is evaluated as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. Maintaining forest connectivity across mountain ranges and protecting key protected areas will be crucial for the continued survival of this dazzling highland hummingbird.

Significance to Humans

The Purple-throated Mountaingem, along with several related mountain gem species, is one of the prime target birds that ecotourists hope to see when visiting the mountainous regions of Costa Rica and Panama. Famous birding sites such as Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and the mountain lodges at San Gerardo de Dota attract numerous birders wanting to get a glimpse of these colorful hummingbirds. Its importance as a beautiful and sought-after bird for tourism helps promote further conservation initiatives in these areas.

Local and indigenous groups also have an appreciation for the unique biodiversity of the highland forests the Purple-throated Mountaingem inhabits. It may play a role in pollinating some plants used by local communities. Overall, this striking hummingbird is a charismatic species that captures the imagination of many and provides an entryway to appreciating and conserving its delicate montane ecosystem.


With its brilliant plumage and specialized habitat, the Purple-throated Mountaingem is one of Central America’s most captivating hummingbirds. While currently faring well across its range, protecting its cloud forest home from threats such as deforestation and climate change is crucial for this species’ continued survival. Further research can also help unravel mysteries about its migration patterns and ecology. As an important attraction for ecotourism and a beautiful example of montane diversity, conserving populations of the Purple-throated Mountaingem can provide protection for many other highland species facing similar threats. This gem of the Central American mountains remains a dazzling sight for any lucky birdwatcher and a reminder of the value in safeguarding fragile cloud forest ecosystems.