Tourmaline Sunangel Hummingbird Species

The tourmaline sunangel (Heliangelus exortis) is a stunningly beautiful hummingbird found in a small region of the Andes mountains in Peru and Bolivia. With its metallic green body, violet throat, and namesake orange “tourmaline” crown, this tiny bird has captivated scientists and bird enthusiasts alike since its discovery in 1905.

Physical Description

Reaching only about 4 inches in length, the tourmaline sunangel is nonetheless dazzling to behold. The male sports a shimmering turquoise-green body, with a bright splash of violet feathers on its throat. Its head is adorned with an iridescent orange crown that shines like a fiery gemstone in flight. The female is slightly duller, with more gray-green plumage and a white-tipped gray tail. Like all hummingbirds, the tourmaline sunangel has a slender, pointed bill suited for drinking nectar from flowers. Its wings beat a remarkable 50 times per second, allowing the acrobatic bird to hover in midair or swiftly change direction.

Habitat and Diet

The tourmaline sunangel inhabits mountain forests and scrublands between 10,000 and 15,000 feet in elevation. It tends to stick to relatively humid microclimates, such as near streams or wet clearings. This habitat provides the bird with a rich diversity of nectar-producing flowers, including forms of fuchsia, red-hot poker plants, and more. To fuel its supercharged metabolism, the sunangel drinks nectar throughout the day, visiting hundreds of blossoms across its mountain territory. It also catches small insects on the wing to obtain essential proteins.

Life Cycle and Behaviors

The mating season for the tourmaline sunangel runs from April through June. Males perform elaborate courtship flights, flying in looping patterns to display their iridescent plumage for watching females. Once paired, the female constructs a tiny lichen-covered nest only about 1 inch wide, attached to a tree branch. She lays just two tiny white eggs, which she attentively incubates for about 16-19 days. The chicks hatch with closed eyes and few feathers, but grow quickly under their mother’s care. They fledge from the nest at 22-26 days old.

The fledglings reach sexual maturity at about a year old, when they molt into their bright adult plumage. The tourmaline sunangel is a solitary species, only interacting with others for mating. Males defend nectar-rich territories from intruders through chasing and aerial battles. Their sharp twitter call, cheep-cheep-chip, rings through the Andean forests as they advertise territorial boundaries. With a life span of 5 to 6 years, these territorial behaviors continue season after season.

Conservation Status and Threats

Classified as Near Threatened on the IUCN Red List, the tourmaline sunangel has a global population estimated between 2,500 and 9,999 mature individuals. Habitat loss from mining, logging, and agriculture poses the greatest threat across its limited range. Climate change may also impact the bird by causing upward shifts in flower zones and drying out mountaintop ecosystems. Eco-tourism and observation pressure have additionally disturbed its normal behaviors in recent decades. Bolivia and Peru have set aside protected areas to conserve humid mountain forest habitats. Further habitat protections and responsible tourism practices will be key to ensuring the future of this one-of-a-kind Andean jewel.


In the family of hummingbirds, the tourmaline sunangel is truly a sparkling standout. Its restricted habitat and colorful allure have made it a birdwatching prize for centuries. As human activity continues to shape its sensitive ecosystem, maintaining suitable habitat will be crucial for preserving the unique biodiversity of the Andes – including its most radiant feathered inhabitant, the sunangel. With appropriate conservation measures, future generations will be able to marvel at its gemstone sheen in the mountain mists.