The sapphire-spangled emerald hummingbird (Chlorostilbon Sapphirinus) is a small, vibrantly colored hummingbird native to tropical regions of Central and South America. With its glittering sapphire-blue plumage and bright emerald green accents, this species is one of the most visually striking hummingbirds in the world.
Range and Habitat
The sapphire-spangled emerald inhabits humid lowland rainforests, forest edges, and areas of secondary growth from southern Mexico to Bolivia and central Brazil. Its range overlaps with several other hummingbird species, including the ruby-throated hummingbird, the violet-capped hummingbird, and the white-necked jacobin. However, the sapphire-spangled emerald occupies a distinct ecological niche due to its unique adaptations and behaviors.
This species tends to favor areas with an abundance of flowering plants and thick, jungle-like vegetation. It is most commonly found along forest streams and rivers, where it can take advantage of the increased availability of nectar sources and nesting sites. The sapphire-spangled emerald has a strong preference for lower elevations below 3,000 feet.
The sapphire-spangled emerald hummingbird’s most noticeable feature is its vibrant, iridescent plumage. The male has extensively blue upperparts that appear to sparkle and shine in bright light. Its throat and chest are a striking emerald green. The lower belly and undertail coverts are white. The female is similar but less vibrantly colored, with more gray-green plumage on the head and back.
Males of this species grow to about 3.5 inches in length and weigh roughly 2.5 grams. Females are slightly larger, reaching 4 inches in length with an average weight of 3 grams.
The sapphire-spangled emerald has a slender, curved black bill adapted for accessing nectar from flowers. Its legs and feet are small and weak, used only for perching rather than walking or hopping. The wings are long and narrow for efficient, rapid flight.
Diet and Feeding
Like all hummingbirds, the sapphire-spangled emerald subsists almost entirely on nectar from flowering plants. It favors brightly colored tube or funnel-shaped flowers with ample nectar rewards, such as Heliconia, passionflowers, and epiphytic cacti. The long, specialized bill allows the bird to delve deep into these flowers to obtain nectar.
The sapphire-spangled emerald also consumes small insects and spiders to obtain crucial proteins. It may hawk flying insects in midair or glean arthropods from foliage and bark. This represents a relatively small portion of the diet, as nectar remains the primary energy source.
Courtship and Reproduction
One of the most intriguing features of the sapphire-spangled emerald is the elaborate courtship display performed by males. In a shimmering blur of color, males fly in u-shaped patterns in front of females, orienting their brilliant feathers toward the sunlight. They also vocalize a high-pitched twittering song and perform midair climbs and dives. If receptive, the female will perch and allow the male to approach and mate with her.
Females build a small, cup-shaped nest out of plant down, spider webs, and lichen on a low branch or fern frond above a stream. Using spider silk as an elastic material, the nest expands to accommodate the growing chicks.
The female lays 2 tiny white eggs and incubates them alone for 15-19 days. Once hatched, the chicks are fed regurgitated insects and nectar by the female. They leave the nest at 22-26 days old but remain dependent on the female for another couple weeks.
While still relatively common in parts of its range, the sapphire-spangled emerald hummingbird is classified as Near Threatened by the IUCN Red List. Habitat loss from deforestation poses the biggest threat. Climate change and drought may also impact its specialized habitat along tropical streams and rivers.
Partners in Flight estimates the global breeding population at 50,000, with declining trends evident in some regions. Ongoing habitat conservation and expanded protected areas will be important for maintaining viable populations of this gorgeous species into the future.
The brilliant plumage of the sapphire-spangled emerald has made it an influential species in the folklore and art of many indigenous Central and South American cultures. It is often depicted in jewelry, textiles, ceremonial costumes, and more.
Local indigenous names for the bird include oiseau saphir étincelant in French Guiana and pájaro esmeralda de zafiro centelleante in parts of Colombia and Venezuela. Its likeness has symbolic meaning in mythology related to the sun, rivers, and fertility.
This hummingbird is also a popular ecotourism sight, with birders traveling from across the globe for a chance to see it in person. As an iconic and charismatic species, the sapphire-spangled emerald can potentially serve as a flagship for conservation efforts in its specialized tropical habitat.
With its scintillating blue and green plumage glinting like a living jewel, the aptly named sapphire-spangled emerald hummingbird is truly one of the most exquisite avian species on Earth. Though facing threats from habitat loss, it remains a stronghold of biodiversity in Central and South American rainforests. Conserving the unique habitats relied on by this and other tropical hummingbirds is crucial for protecting these specialized species into the future. The sustainability of these vibrant birds is intrinsically linked to that of their forest ecosystems.