The Rufous-breasted Sabrewing (Campylopterus hyperythrus) is a medium-sized hummingbird found in Central and South America. With its colorful plumage and elongated wings, this species is a sight to behold for birdwatchers. In this article, we will explore the identification, distribution, habitat, diet, behavior, breeding, conservation status, and threats facing the Rufous-breasted Sabrewing.
The Rufous-breasted Sabrewing has vibrant plumage that makes it easy to identify. The male has an iridescent reddish-violet throat and breast, with green upperparts and white undersides. The tail is forked and blackish with white outer tail feathers. The female is similar but less brightly colored, with a pale gray throat and breast, greener upperparts, and slightly shorter tail streamers. Both sexes have a long, slender curved bill suited to nectar feeding from flowers. Their wings are elongated and pointed, an adaptation for fast and agile flight. Juveniles resemble adult females but with buffier undersides.
This species has a wide distribution across Central and South America. Its range extends from southern Mexico through Panama, across to the Andes mountains of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. Outlying populations exist in Venezuela and the Guianas. It inhabits humid forest and woodland habitats primarily at elevations between 500-1500 meters, but can range from sea level up to 2500 meters in some areas.
The Rufous-breasted Sabrewing inhabits tropical and subtropical moist forests, including evergreen lowland rainforests, foothill forests, and cloud forests. It prefers areas with plenty of flowering plants and a dense vegetation structure to provide cover. Stands of tall trees for perching interspersed with openings and forest edges rich in nectar plants are ideal habitat. It appears to adapt readily to some habitat modification, as long as sufficient flowers remain.
As with all hummingbirds, nectar is the main food source for the Rufous-breasted Sabrewing. It uses its specialized long bill and tongue to drink the nectar from a variety of brightly colored tubular flowers. Some favorite nectar sources are plants in the Heliconia genus as well as Datura, Fuchsia, and Abutilon flowers. The bill curves perfectly to probe into the corollas of these flowers. This species also consumes small insects and spiders to obtain essential amino acids absent in nectar. It hawks flying insects in flight or gleans them from foliage.
The Rufous-breasted Sabrewing displays energetic territorial behavior, using vocalizations and chase flights to defend flower patches, feeding territories, and nest sites. Males perform courtship displays for visiting females, flying in U-shaped or figure-eight patterns while vibrating their wings to produce buzzing sounds. They are fast and agile fliers, capable of hovering in place as well as reverse flight. This species has a direct flight with wings whirring rapidly, and it perches horizontally when not feeding. It spends a lot of time perching to conserve energy between feeding bouts.
The breeding season for this hummingbird generally coincides with peak flower availability in its tropical habitat. Courtship displays begin in early spring, and nest building occurs from late spring into summer. The female constructs a small cup-shaped nest out of plant down, lichen, and spider webs, camouflaging it against the underside of a large leaf, often overhanging a stream. She incubates the two tiny white eggs for about 16-19 days until they hatch. The chicks are brooded and fed by the female, fledging at around 23 days old. The male does not participate in caring for the young.
The Rufous-breasted Sabrewing is currently classified as Least Concern by the IUCN. Its large range and stable population trend mean it is not considered globally threatened. However, habitat loss is a problem in parts of its range, especially deforestation in Central America. Climate change and drought may also impact the tropical forests this species inhabits. Continued protection of moist forest ecosystems will be important for the persistence of healthy populations.
The main threats facing the Rufous-breasted Sabrewing are habitat loss and fragmentation. Logging, agricultural conversion, and human development have caused declines in tropical moist forests across Central and South America. Climate change leading to increased droughts may degrade the quality of its specialized habitat over time. Over-collection for the pet trade has also impacted some populations in the past, though this is less of a current threat. Predation by invasive species near human settlements is another potential issue.
The brilliant plumage and energetic nature of the Rufous-breasted Sabrewing make it a favorite among bird enthusiasts across the Neotropics. Protecting wet forest habitat and nectar plants will be key to ensuring this species continues to thrive. There is still much to learn about its migration patterns, breeding ecology, and ability to adapt to habitat modifications. More research and monitoring of populations will provide deeper insight into the conservation needs of this tropical hummingbird. With appropriate habitat conservation measures, the Rufous-breasted Sabrewing will hopefully continue to brighten cloud forests with its colorful presence.