Violet-throated Metaltail Hummingbird Species

The Violet-throated Metaltail (Metallura baroni) is a species of hummingbird found in the Andes Mountains of South America. With its vibrant violet throat patch and metallic green crown, this tiny bird has captivated ornithologists and birdwatchers alike.


The Violet-throated Metaltail is a medium-sized hummingbird, measuring around 9-10 cm in length and weighing 5-7 grams. As its name suggests, it has a brilliant violet patch on its throat, bordered below by a white collar. Its crown and back are an iridescent emerald green, while its underparts are grayish white. The male has a slightly forked tail, while the female’s tail is rounded.

This species has a wide distribution along the Andes Mountains, occurring in Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia between elevations of 1500-4800 meters. It inhabits montane forest edges, elfin woodland, and scrubland. The Violet-throated Metaltail is a high elevation specialist, thriving in the cooler temperatures and thinner air of the high mountains.


The Violet-throated Metaltail is unmistakable within its range due to its vibrant throat coloration. The only similar species is the Green-throated Metaltail (Metallura eupogon) which has a turquoise-green throat patch. The Violet-throated Metaltail can be distinguished by its violet throat, darker crown, and lack of white spotting on its outer tail feathers.

The male Violet-throated Metaltail has a slightly longer and more deeply forked tail than the female. Juveniles resemble adult females but have buffy fringes on their throat feathers. Violet-throated Metaltails produce a high-pitched twittering call, but are generally quiet and unobtrusive birds.

Behavior and Diet

The Violet-throated Metaltail feeds on nectar taken from a variety of Andean plants, including firebush, fuchsia, and angel’s trumpet. It uses its specialized long bill and extendable tongue to access nectar. This species favors flowers with long corollas, to match its long bill.

In addition to nectar, the Violet-throated Metaltail supplements its diet by hawking small insects in flight. It occupies both forest edges and open areas within its high mountain habitat. The Violet-throated Metaltail can be seen visiting flowers early in the morning and late afternoon, retiring to sheltered perches during the hottest hours of the day.

This hummingbird species is solitary and territorial. Males advertise and defend feeding territories with aerial displays. Their courtship display consists of flying in repeated U-shaped patterns to impress females. Violet-throated Metaltails do not migrate and are present in their breeding areas year-round.


The Violet-throated Metaltail breeds between April and June. The female builds a small cup nest on a cliff ledge or bank, binding together moss, grass, and other soft materials with spider webs. She lays two tiny white eggs, which she incubates alone for 15-19 days.

The chicks hatch with eyes closed and almost no down feathers. They are fed by the female with regurgitated nectar and insects and fledge at around 20 days old. The male plays no role in nesting or rearing the young. After fledging, the young birds must quickly learn to forage on their own while avoiding the territorial adults.

Threats and Conservation

With its remote montane habitat, the Violet-throated Metaltail remains relatively common throughout its range. Its populations are suspected to be decreasing, but the rate of decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to trigger conservation vulnerability.

Some threats to this species include habitat loss from logging and agricultural expansion upslope. Climate change may also pose a long-term threat by changing plant communities and drying habitats at these elevations. Eco-tourism and recreation activities sometimes disturb nesting and feeding areas.

More research is needed on population trends for the Violet-throated Metaltail. Protected areas exist in parts of its range and can serve as a conservation buffer for the species. Careful management of high-elevation habitats will be needed moving forward to preserve vulnerable species like this Andean hummingbird.

Significance to Ecosystem and Humans

As a pollinator of high mountain flowers and disperser of seeds, the Violet-throated Metaltail contributes to maintaining plant communities across the Andes. It historically would have played an important role in pollinating crops in terraced agricultural fields at these elevations.

Today, the striking beauty of this hummingbird makes it a highlight for birders visiting its range. It has potential to be promoted as a charismatic flagship species for conservation. Programs that engage local communities and preserve habitats at upper elevations will also benefit the Violet-throated Metaltail.

With its glittering violet throat and agile flying skills, the Violet-throated Metaltail will continue to fascinate all who encounter it in the High Andes. Protecting its specialized habitat amidst a changing climate ensures this captivating species persists to glisten over the mountains. Though small, this Andean jewel illuminates the value of all species, no matter their size.