Fiery Topaz Hummingbird Species

The Fiery Topaz Hummingbird (Topaza ignita) is a small, brightly colored hummingbird found in the mountainous regions of Central America. With its fiery orange and yellow plumage, this species is one of the most colorful hummingbirds in the world.


The Fiery Topaz Hummingbird measures only about 3 inches long from the tip of its bill to the end of its tail. Despite its tiny size, it has remarkably bright plumage. The male has a shimmering orange throat and breast, with a yellow belly and greenish back. Depending on how the light catches the feathers, the orange can appear anywhere from golden to a blazing reddish-orange, leading to its name “Fiery Topaz”. The female is slightly duller, with a pale yellow throat and breast, green back, and white belly dotted with green spots. Like other hummingbirds, the Fiery Topaz Hummingbird has a long, slender bill suited for reaching nectar deep inside flowers. Its wings beat up to 70 times per second, allowing it to hover in place or fly backwards with ease. The tail is forked and black. Juveniles resemble adult females.

Range and Habitat

The Fiery Topaz Hummingbird is found in Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. Its habitat consists of lower mountain slopes and foothills at elevations between 1500-6000 feet. It prefers forest edges, second growth, gardens, and semi-open areas with scattered trees and shrubs. This species is a highland specialist, migrating downslope during the winter but restricted to middle elevations at all times of year.

Food and Feeding

Like all hummingbirds, the Fiery Topaz subsists mainly on nectar from flowering plants. It favors nectar from species such as fuchsias, salvias, and verbenas, as well as native plants like lobelias, psuedobombax, and passionflowers. The long bill allows it to feed from tubular blossoms that many other birds cannot access. The hummingbird’s wings beat aerobically in order to power this high-energy lifestyle. Small insects and spiders are also captured in flight to provide essential proteins. The Fiery Topaz Hummingbird uses a technique known as trap lining, repeatedly visiting favorite nectar plants in a circuit. The birds are extremely territorial, chasing away most other hummingbirds from their favorite nectar sources.


During courtship, the male Fiery Topaz Hummingbird performs elaborate dive displays to impress the female. Once paired, the female builds a tiny cup nest out of plant down covered with lichens for camouflage. It is attached to a thin tree branch, often overhanging a stream. She lays 2 pea-sized white eggs and incubates them for 15-19 days. The chicks hatch with their eyes sealed shut and only a hint of down. They are fed regurgitated insects and nectar by the female and fledge at 22-25 days old. The bright plumage of the males does not fully develop until their second year. Fiery Topaz Hummingbirds may raise 2-3 broods per year.


This species migrates downslope after breeding to spend the winter at lower elevations. Northern populations may migrate as far south as Costa Rica for the winter. The timing and distances involved in migration are not fully understood but may involve movements of several hundred kilometers between breeding and non-breeding grounds. Like Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in North America, most migration happens at night. More research is needed to elucidate migration patterns in Fiery Topaz Hummingbirds.

Conservation Status

The Fiery Topaz Hummingbird has a wide distribution and large total population, estimated up to 500,000 individuals. However, its specialized highland habitat is threatened by deforestation. The rate of forest loss in Central America is one of the highest in world, reducing available habitat for this species. Climate change may also push optimal elevations for this species higher over time. The Fiery Topaz Hummingbird is currently classified as Least Concern by the IUCN Red List but may warrant closer monitoring in the future. Maintaining connectivity between protected areas and habitat corridors will be important for the long-term conservation of this species. Ecotourism may also help provide an incentive to preserve habitat, as birders travel from all over to see Central America’s dazzling hummingbirds.

Interesting Facts

– The Fiery Topaz Hummingbird gets its name from the brilliant orange plumage of the males, which shimmers like a precious topaz gemstone. Depending on lighting conditions, the feathers can appear anywhere from golden orange to a searing reddish color.

– To conserve energy, the Fiery Topaz Hummingbird enters a state of torpor at night and on cool days by lowering its body temperature and metabolic rate.

– The species exhibits “flight feather molt”, replacing all flight feathers at once every 1-2 years rather than gradual feather replacement. This leaves the bird flightless for a short period.

– Males perform dramatic courtship displays, rapidly climbing then diving up to 130 feet while making loud chipping sounds with their tail feathers.

– The species has specialized shoulder joints that allow the wings to rotate in a full circle. No other birds can do this.

– Fiery Topaz Hummingbirds have excellent memories, returning year after year to the same nesting and feeding sites.

– The heartbeat of a hummingbird at rest can be up to 500 beats per minute. During flight, it can reach as high as 1200 beats per minute.

In summary, the Fiery Topaz Hummingbird is a fascinating, diminutive bird renowned for its sparkling plumage and energetic lifestyle. While currently stable, habitat loss necessitates monitoring of this Central American highland specialist. Maintaining protected areas and natural corridors will ensure the blazing colors of the Fiery Topaz Hummingbird continue to brighten its mountain home for years to come.