Golden-tailed Sapphire Hummingbird Species

The golden-tailed sapphire (Chrysuronia oenone) is a species of hummingbird found in South America that is easily distinguished by its glittering golden-orange tail. With its vibrant plumage and acrobatic flight, this rare hummingbird has captivated ornithologists and bird enthusiasts alike.

Physical Description

Reaching only about 8-9 centimeters in length and weighing 2-3 grams, the golden-tailed sapphire is a very small bird. Its tiny body is an iridescent green on the back and head, fading to white underneath. The male has a brilliant gorget (throat feathers) that flashes a vivid blue-violet in the proper lighting. As the name suggests, the most striking feature of this species is the male’s long forked tail feathers which shine in dazzling golden-orange hues. The female lacks the ornate tail and has white tips on her outer tail feathers rather than the bold orange coloration.

Range and Habitat

The golden-tailed sapphire is found exclusively in tropical South America east of the Andes Mountains. Its range extends from Venezuela and the Guianas south to Brazil and Bolivia. It resides primarily in humid lowland forests up to 800 meters in elevation. This species seems to prefer forest edges and second growth forests with plenty of openings. It is also frequently encountered in gardens and along rivers where flowering plants provide nectar.

Behavior and Diet

Like all hummingbirds, the golden-tailed sapphire feeds on flower nectar and tiny insects and spiders. It uses its specialized long beak to drink nectar while hovering in front of flowers. To catch insects, it adeptly plucks them out of the air during flight. This agile hummer can even snatch spiders and webs right off of branches.

The golden-tailed sapphire lives alone or in pairs, aggressively defending flower territories from intruders. Courting males perform elaborate flight displays, flying in loops and arcs to impress females. Though small, the golden-tailed sapphire is known for its feisty behavior, chasing away much larger birds that enter its feeding grounds.

This tropical species does not migrate and inhabits the same territory throughout the year. It prefers to perch hidden inside dense trees and shrubs when not active. The female builds a tiny cup nest out of plant fibers, moss, and lichens camouflaged on a tree branch. She raises two broods per breeding season, laying only two pea-sized eggs per clutch.

Conservation Status

Widespread throughout its range, the golden-tailed sapphire is evaluated as a species of least concern by the IUCN Red List. However, its numbers are declining in some areas due to habitat loss from deforestation. Areas of Venezuela and the Guianas have seen smaller golden-tailed sapphire populations in recent years as forests are cleared for agriculture and logging. Protecting remaining lowland tropical forests throughout South America is crucial to ensuring the future of this dazzling hummingbird.

Cultural Significance

Indigenous cultures throughout South America have long admired the brilliant feathers and energetic nature of hummingbirds. The golden-tailed sapphire is no exception, appearing in folklore and ornamentation in various regions. For the Tucano people of Colombia, this hummingbird represents a protective and benevolent spiritual presence. Its likeness has been woven into Tucano fabrics and carved into ceremonial items.

For many cultures of the Guiana Shield region, hummingbirds are symbols of vibrancy, energy, and vitality. It’s easy to see why the golden-tailed sapphire often inspires awe with its flashy tail trailing behind its tiny body as it zips from flower to flower. This species has been featured in traditional songs, dances, and stories honoring its beauty and liveliness.

A Dazzling and Graceful Species

With its sparkling orange tail feathers and energetic disposition, the golden-tailed sapphire hummingbird aptly represents the magic of tropical birds. Though small, it has a larger-than-life presence when encountered in the wild, captivating birders and nature enthusiasts. This species highlights the astonishing diversity and splendor of life in the Neotropics. Conserving its threatened forest habitat ensures the continued existence of the golden-tailed sapphire and many other species that call the South American rainforests home.