The violet sabrewing (Campylopterus hemileucurus) is a medium-sized hummingbird found in Central America and western South America. With its deep violet plumage and curved bill, it is a stunning and unique bird.
The violet sabrewing gets its name from the iridescent violet color of the male’s plumage. The female has more green in her plumage. Both sexes have a slightly curved bill that is an adaptation for accessing nectar from curved flowers. Their wings make a loud buzzing or “sabre” sound in flight, which gives them their “sabrewing” name.
The violet sabrewing ranges from 8.5-10 cm in length and weighs 6-8 grams. The male’s plumage is overall violet-blue, with a velvety black tail and wings. His throat is glittering violet. The female has green upperparts, a rufous belly, gray throat, and black tail with white tips. Her under-tail coverts are rufous. Both sexes have a black bill with a pale lower mandible.
Range and Habitat
The violet sabrewing is found from southern Mexico to western Panama, and along the Andes mountains from Venezuela to Bolivia. Its natural habitats are humid montane forests, forest edges, and clearings in elevations between 1,000-3,000 m.
They prefer areas with plenty of flowering plants and feeders, as they are trapliners that visit familiar feeding spots repeatedly through the day. Violet sabrewings migrate seasonally up and down mountain slopes following the flowering and fruiting of plants.
Like all hummingbirds, the violet sabrewing has a high metabolism and relies on consuming nectar for quick energy. They use their specialized long tongues to feed on nectar from tropical flowers such as lobelia, fuchsia, and passion flowers. They also eat small insects for protein.
The breeding season for violet sabrewings is between March to June. The female builds a small cup nest out of plant fibers, spider webs, and lichen on a low branch or tree fern. She lays two tiny white eggs. She alone cares for the chicks, feeding them regurgitated insects and nectar. The chicks fledge around 20-25 days after hatching.
The violet sabrewing is a bold and territorial species. Males defend feeding territories from other hummingbirds and perch prominently, flashing their colorful throats and making chipping vocalizations. Females are also fairly aggressive. They have complex flight displays with sudden rapid dives and climbs.
The violet sabrewing has a wide range and large total population, estimated at 500,000 to 5 million birds. Its population appears to be stable, so the IUCN Red List categorizes it as a species of Least Concern. Habitat loss is a potential threat.
– The violet sabrewing has the largest wings of any hummingbird relative to its weight. This gives it great speed and agility in flight.
– Its closest relatives are the white-necked jacobin and the white-vented plumeleteer. All are in the Campylopterus genus of hummingbirds.
– Unusual among hummingbirds, the violet sabrewing sometimes hovers upside down to access nectar from flowers.
– When flying fast, its wings beat up to 70 times per second. This creates the characteristic buzzing or “sabre” sound.
In summary, the glittering violet sabrewing is an athletic and specialized nectar-feeder exquisitely adapted to accessing flowers in its mountain forest home. With its unique plumage and behaviors, this tropical hummingbird provides endless fascination. Protecting its Andean habitats will ensure the continued survival of these special birds into the future.