Versicolored Emerald Hummingbird Species

The versicolored emerald hummingbird (Chlorostilbon mellisugus) is a small yet striking bird found in parts of Central and South America. With its vibrant green plumage and remarkable capability for hovering flight, this species has captivated ornithologists and bird enthusiasts alike. In this article, we will explore the key features of the versicolored emerald hummingbird including its appearance, habitat, diet, breeding behaviors, conservation status, and significance.


The most noticeable feature of the versicolored emerald is its vibrant plumage which can appear bright green, teal, or turquoise depending on the lighting. The male has an iridescent emerald throat and crown, with a dark tail. When light hits the feathers just right, the colors seem to shift and change like a prism. The female is similar but less vibrant, with whitish tips on the tail feathers. In both sexes, the straight bill is reddish with a black tip. Overall body length ranges from 3.5-4 inches, with a wingspan of about 2 inches.

The “versicolored” in the name comes from the bird’s ability to display an array of different green hues. Ornithologists believe that the shifting iridescent colors may help attract mates and establish breeding territories. When angry or excited, the feathers can fluff out to appear even flashier. This remarkable color-changing plumage sets the versicolored emerald apart from other hummingbird species.

Habitat and Distribution

The versicolored emerald hummingbird has a relatively wide distribution across parts of Central America and northwestern South America. Its breeding habitat spans Nicaragua south through Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia and Venezuela. Some seasonal migration may occur after breeding, with birds dispersing more widely across the region.

This species occupies a range of humid lowland and foothill habitats, including forest edges, second growth, plantations, parks, and gardens. It seems to thrive in partly open areas that offer a mix of flowering plants, bushes, and small trees. Access to nectar-bearing flowers and blooming trees is key. Protection from harsh sun and some heavier rain is provided by patches of dense vegetation.


Like all hummingbirds, the versicolored emerald subsists almost entirely on nectar from flowering plants and feeders. Its long, slender bill and extended tongue are perfectly adapted for accessing nectar from even the most intricate flowers. Favorites include heliconia, ginger, and banana flowers. The versicolored will aggressively defend flower clusters and feeders as critical food sources.

Small insects are also caught on the wing and provide essential proteins. Favorite aerial prey includes mosquitoes, gnats, flies and spiders. Brief pauses in hovering flight allow for snatching bugs out of the air with precision. The result is a high-energy diet of nectar carbs and insect proteins.

Flight and Hovering

The versicolored emerald hummingbird is a powerful and acrobatic flyer, capable of the most remarkable hovering in midair. Its wings can beat up to 70 times per second, allowing the bird to fly forwards, backwards, upside down, and hover in place. Maneuvering happens with ease as the bird accessing nectar from flowers.

This energetic hovering flight lets the hummingbird feed while pollinating plants. The wings are specially adapted to rotate in full circles for optimum hovering. Muscles make up over a quarter of the bird’s tiny body weight. Combined with an enlarged heart and rapid breathing, these features enable the metabolic demands required for sustained hovering. It is this evolutionary marvel of flight that defines the charm and appeal of hummingbirds.

Breeding and Nesting

The breeding season for versicolored emerald hummingbirds varies across their range, typically falling between March and June. Males perform elaborate aerial displays to court females and advertise breeding territories. Once paired, the female builds a tiny cup-shaped nest out of plant down, spider webs, and lichens. It is attached to a thin tree branch, often overhanging a stream.

Two small white eggs are laid, and the female incubates them for 14-16 days. Chicks hatch with eyes closed and almost devoid of feathers. They develop quickly on a diet of regurgitated nectar and insects provided by the female. After about 3 weeks, the young leave the nest and soon become independent. Versicolored emerald hummingbirds may breed two to three times in a single season before migrating.

Conservation Status

The versicolored emerald hummingbird has a broad extent of occurrence and large total population, estimated at 500,000 to 5 million individuals. Its numbers appear to be stable, and the species is classified as Least Concern by the IUCN Red List. Habitat loss from deforestation presents a major threat, although the species does show some adaptability to human modified environments if flowers are present. Sustainable coffee and cocoa plantations can provide habitat. Expanding urban areas likely eliminate populations. Climate change may impact future habitat suitability. Going forward, protection of diverse feeding and nesting habitats will be key to conservation of the species.

Cultural Significance

With its striking colors and energetic flight, the versicolored emerald hummingbird has captivated people across its range. Many indigenous groups hold the bird as a symbol of joy and life energy. Its iridescent throat may represent the voice that emerges when one finds their true self or purpose. Alternatively, the emerald colors and fluttering wings can signify the ephemerality of life’s beauty.

The hummingbird’s agility and speed has inspired ceremonial dance and clothing. Floating, darting motions mimic the bird’s flight to express vitality. The versicolored emerald remains culturally significant across Central and South America, reflected in indigenous stories, celebrations, and artisan crafts. From archaeological remains to modern depictions, the hummingbird retains its wonder.


With its remarkable flying abilities, dazzling color-changing feathers, and ecological importance, the versicolored emerald hummingbird is truly a unique species. While small in stature, it encapsulates some of the most intriguing features of Neotropical birds. This species has rightfully earned widespread affection and admiration throughout its range and beyond. As pressures from habitat loss mount, continued conservation efforts will be needed to ensure thriving populations of this special bird into the future. Through responsible stewardship of its sensitive ecosystems, we can protect the survival of the versicolored emerald and the joy it brings.