Rufous-throated Sapphire Hummingbird Species

The Rufous-throated Sapphire (Hylocharis sapphirina) is a medium-sized hummingbird native to tropical regions of South America. With its glittering blue-green upperparts and bright rufous throat, it is one of the most colorful members of the hummingbird family. This species measures 8-10 cm in length and weighs 4-7 grams. The male is unmistakable with its velvety blue crown, emerald green upperparts, and brilliant orange throat. The female is similar but has a paler throat that is more white than orange. The Rufous-throated Sapphire inhabits forest edges and clearings, second growth, plantations, and gardens from sea level up to 1500 m elevation. Its range extends from Panama south through Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador to Peru and Bolivia.


The Rufous-throated Sapphire has a wide distribution across northern South America. Its range stretches along the Pacific slope from eastern Panama through western Colombia and western Ecuador. On the Caribbean slope, it is found from central Panama through northwestern Venezuela, with isolated populations in the Santa Marta Mountains of Colombia. A disjunct population exists in southeastern Peru and adjacent areas of Bolivia. Throughout its range, this species is generally uncommon to rare. It occurs at elevations up to 1500 m, inhabiting forest edges, second growth, clearings, plantations of bananas and coffee, parks, and gardens. Taller trees are required for perching and nesting sites.


The Rufous-throated Sapphire is a relatively large hummingbird, measuring 8-10 cm in length and averaging 5-7 grams in weight. As in all hummingbirds, the bill is long, slender, and slightly downcurved. The male is unmistakable with its brilliant coloring. The crown and throat are velvety orange-rufous, while the upperparts are glittering green. The uppertail coverts are bright blue. The tail is mainly rufous-bronze, with the outer rectrices tipped in purple-blue. The underparts are grayish white with green sides. The bill is black above and flesh-colored below. The female resembles the male, but has a pale whitish throat and forehead, less blue on the uppertail, and more rufous-bronze in the tail. Immature Rufous-throated Sapphires resemble adult females but have buff spotting on the throat and breast.


Like all hummingbirds, the Rufous-throated Sapphire feeds on nectar, visiting a wide variety of brightly colored tropical flowers. It favors flowers with red and orange hues, including bromeliads, heliconias, and flowering trees and shrubs. Some favorite food plants include kohleria, besleria, drymonia, aloe, erythrina, and bromeliads of the genera guzmania and aechmea. The long bill and tongue allow the bird to access nectar from long tubular flowers. In addition to nectar, hummingbirds take small insects and spiders to obtain protein. The Rufous-throated Sapphire hawks flying insects, often sallying out from a perch to catch prey. It also gleans small insects from foliage in the forest understory.


The Rufous-throated Sapphire, like most hummingbirds, is highly vocal. The male produces a varied repertoire of high-pitched, squeaky vocalizations used in courtship displays and aggression. Common calls include sharp chips and tseeps, longer sweer and schnip notes, and buzzy trills and rattles. Males defending feeding territories make rapid ticking sounds. Females have thinner, higher-pitched calls used in interactions with males or other females. Young Rufous-throated Sapphires emit loud begging calls when soliciting food from adults.


The breeding season of the Rufous-throated Sapphire varies across its range, coinciding with peak flower availability. Breeding generally takes place from March to June in Panama, and February to August in Ecuador. As in all hummingbirds, the males display at leks to attract females. Courting males fly in u-shaped flight patterns, dive and climb at high speeds, hover in front of females, and fan their tails while dipping and bobbing. If a female is receptive, she will perch nearby while the male continues to display. Copulation occurs very briefly, initiated by the female before she departs. The male plays no role in selecting nest sites, incubating eggs, or raising young. The female builds a tiny cup nest out of plant down, spider webs, and lichens on the limb of a tree, usually 2-15 m above ground. She lays two tiny white eggs, which she incubates alone for 15-19 days. The chicks hatch with their eyes sealed shut and almost no feathers. The female cares for and feeds the chicks until they fledge at about 18-22 days old.


The Rufous-throated Sapphire is evaluated as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List. It has a relatively broad range and the population appears to be stable. The remote forests it inhabits face clearing and degradation from logging, agriculture, and human settlement. The species adapts readily to disturbed habitats such as plantations and gardens, so long as some trees remain. Planting suitable nectar flowers may help attract Rufous-throated Sapphires to gardens. Maintaining natural forest areas will also conserve habitat for this beautiful hummingbird. More surveys and monitoring are needed to determine population trends and better understand threats across its range.


The Rufous-throated Sapphire belongs to the large hummingbird family, Trochilidae, which consists of over 300 species. It is placed in the subfamily Trochilinae and tribe Trochilini, known as typical hummingbirds. The Sapphire group are medium to large hummingbirds with glittering green upperparts. Closely related is the Blue-tailed Sapphire Chlorestes notata of Venezuela, which has a blue rump and tail. The Violet-tailed Sylph Aglaiocercus coelestis of the Andes is an emerald hummingbird with violet tail feathers. Other relatives include mountain gems like the Blue-throated Sapphire Amazilia cyanocephala and the Golden-tailed Sapphire Chrysuronia oenone. All share the brilliant iridescent plumage that typifies the Trochilini.

In summary, the Rufous-throated Sapphire is a stunning tropical hummingbird renowned for its vivid plumage. This medium-sized species inhabits forest edges and clearings across northern South America. The velvety blue, emerald, and orange plumage of the male makes it unmistakable. Females are similar but less colorful. Rufous-throated Sapphires feed on nectar from colorful flowers and small insects. Males display elaborately to attract females. After mating, the female builds a tiny nest and raises the chicks alone. Although hummingbird populations face threats from habitat loss, the Rufous-throated Sapphire remains common across most of its range. Maintaining natural forest areas will help ensure the survival of this radiant species into the future.