Grey-breasted Sabrewing Hummingbird Species

The Grey-breasted Sabrewing (Campylopterus largipennis) is a medium-sized hummingbird found in Central America and northwest South America. With its glittering emerald upperparts, grey underparts, and lengthy decurved bill, this species is unmistakable in its range.


The adult male grey-breasted sabrewing has a violet-blue crown and throat, with an iridescent emerald green back, rump, and wing coverts. The underparts are grey, with whitish under tail coverts. The long bill is black above and red below and is strongly decurved. The female is similar, but has greener upperparts and is more grey below. Juveniles resemble the female but have buff edges to the feathers of the upperparts.

This sabrewing measures around 11–13 cm in length and weighs 5–8 g. The wingspan is approximately 18 cm. As with other hummingbirds, the wingbeat is rapid, up to 70 beats per second. In flight, this species has a very swift and direct flight style.

Distribution and Habitat

The grey-breasted sabrewing is found from southeastern Mexico south along the Pacific slope through Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica. There is an isolated population in Panama. On the Caribbean side it occurs only in Costa Rica and western Panama.

This hummingbird inhabits forest and woodland areas, including lowland and foothill tropical evergreen forest, gallery forest, and pine-oak woodlands. It occupies both disturbed and undisturbed habitats. In Central America it occurs up to elevations of 1200 m.

Behaviour and Ecology

The grey-breasted sabrewing lives alone or in pairs, aggressively defending nectar-rich flowering plants as a food source. It feeds on nectar using its specialized long tongue, and takes some small insects as an essential source of protein.

Flowering plants favored by this sabrewing include bromeliads, heliconias, and plants from the genus Palicourea. It also regularly visits cornfields to feed on the nectar-rich tassels of maize.

The breeding season for this hummingbird coincides with the wet season, typically from May to August. The female constructs a small cup nest out of plant fibers bound with spider silk. She lays two white eggs and incubates them alone for 15-19 days. The chicks are fed by the female and fledge at approximately 20-26 days old.

Taxonomy and Relationships

The grey-breasted sabrewing is one of around 16 species in the genus Campylopterus, all of which are known as sabrewings. Its closest relatives are thought to be the Napo sabrewing of Ecuador and Peru and the rufous sabrewing of South America.

There are four recognized subspecies of the grey-breasted sabrewing:

– C. l. largipennis – southeastern Mexico to northwestern Costa Rica
– C. l. veraguensis – Costa Rica and western Panama
– C. l. excellens – central Costa Rica
– C. l. simoni – eastern Panama

Conservation Status

The grey-breasted sabrewing has a wide range and large total population. Although some localized declines have occurred, its overall population trend appears to be stable. For these reasons, the species is evaluated as Least Concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Major threats include habitat loss and degradation from agriculture, logging, and human settlement. The use of pesticides and conversion of land for monoculture plantations of crops like coffee reduce the availability of native nectar plants. Climate change may also pose a long-term threat.

This attractive hummingbird adapts readily to gardens and modified landscapes. Providing flowering plants preferred by the species can help populations persist even in altered habitats. Protecting remaining tracts of tropical forest is also important for the conservation of this Central American endemic.

In Summary

With its bright emerald and violet plumage set against grey underparts, the grey-breasted sabrewing is one of Central America’s most exquisite hummingbirds. Roaming forest understories from southern Mexico to Panama, this nectar-lover favors heliconias and other tubular flowers. Although adaptable to some habitat change, this sabrewing requires intact native forests for viable long-term populations. Maintaining protected wilderness areas will give the grey-breasted sabrewing the foraging grounds and nesting sites it needs to continue lighting up its tropical realm.