Violet sabrewing hummingbirds (Campylopterus hemileucurus) have a broad geographic range extending across the neotropics. Violet sabrewings occur throughout portions of northern Mexico, El Salvador and Guatemala, to Costa Rica and Honduras. Their distribution extends as far south as northern South America.
Biogeographic Regions: neotropical (Native )
- 2010. "IUCN Red List of Threatened Species" (On-line). Campylopterus hemileucurus. Accessed April 04, 2011 at www.iucnredlist.org.
- Sibley, C., B. Monroe Jr. 1990. Distribution and Taxonomy of Birds of the World. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Campylopterus hemileucurus is one of the larger hummingbird species in the Family Trochilidae, usually growing to an average length of 15 cm. It is brilliantly colored, with a variety of sharp violets, greens, blacks, blues, and whites. The dark violet and bright blue feathers, mixed with dark forest-green feathers, provide excellent camouflage in forested areas. Its name, sabrewing, refers to the striking flat and thick shafts on its outer feathers. The bill is long and curved, well-adapted for extracting nectar from flowering plants. Flowers with radial symmetry are preferred, because they can easily hover beside the plant while extracting nectar.
Male and female Campylopterus hemileucurus have different coloration. The male's body is generally dark violet and blue on the ventral side, with dark green or black on the dorsal side. Females tend to be more greenish on the ventral side and black on the dorsal side. Both are easily recognized by their distinctive violet throats. Males and females share the same tail pattern with black and white coloration. Juvenile violet sabrewings are distinguished by their lack of violet coloration and flat feathers.
Range mass: 9 to 12 g.
Average length: 15.24 cm.
Average wingspan: 82.6 mm.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: sexes colored or patterned differently; male more colorful
- Marin, M. 2001. Postnatal development of the violet sabrewing in Costa Rica. The Wilson Bulletin, 113/1: 110-114.
Habitat and Ecology
Campylopterus hemileucurus is found in tropical habitats, particularly coastal slopes, inland forests, and tropical grasslands. They occur at elevations ranging from 3,300 to 8,000 meters. Campylopterus hemileucurus does not migrate, because food (nectar from flowers and small insects) is abundant in their habitats year-round. Thus, this region provides an excellent place for breeding and there is no need for migration.
Range elevation: 3,300 to 8,000 m.
Habitat Regions: tropical ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: savanna or grassland ; forest
Aquatic Biomes: coastal
- Land, H. 1963. A collection of birds from the Caribbean lowlands of Guatemala. The Condor, 65/1: 49-65.
- Skutch, A., S. Adams, C. Henderson. 2010. Birds of Costa Rica: A Field Guide. Austin Texas: University of Texas Press.
Hummingbirds are very small birds with high metabolisms. They must feed almost constantly since most of their energy is spent flying. Campylopterus hemileucurus is primarily nectivorous but also insectivorous. Most of their diet comes from floral nectar, with the rest from arthropods (Phylum Arthropoda), including flies (Order Diptera), spiders (Order Araneae), ants (Order Hymenoptera), beetles (Order Coleoptera), and other small organisms. They occasionally feed on non-insect arthropods. Their only limitation in feeding is prey size, although they are capable of swallowing surprisingly large organisms.
Food choice of all hummingbirds is chiefly determined by season and habitat. As a non-migratory hummingbird, C. hemileucurus depends on local food resources. They obtain nectar from brightly colored flowers, particularly those in the Neotropical genus Marcgravia during their flowering season. They are most attracted to red and yellow flowers that are shaped like their beaks (long, tubular, and radially symmetric). When hummingbirds open their beaks, they lap up the nectar with their tongues, which have grooves on the sides that collect the liquid. Violet sabrewings can consume considerable amounts of nectar, almost equal to twice their weight, on a daily basis.
Convenience also plays a major role in the feeding patterns of this bird. They visit flowers from which they can most easily obtain insects and nectar. During other parts of the year, when floral nectar is limited, arthropods are their main food source. During this period, C. hemileucurus often hovers over forest streams and darts at large swarms of gnats. This hovering technique during feeding is common in all hummingbirds.
Animal Foods: insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods
Plant Foods: nectar
Primary Diet: herbivore (Nectarivore )
- Remsen, J., F. Stiles, P. Scott. 1986. Frequency of arthropods in stomachs of tropical hummingbirds. The Auk, 103/2: 436-441.
- Wagner, H. 1946. Food and feeding habits of Mexican hummingbirds. The Wilson Bulletin, 58/2: 69-93.
Campylopterus hemileucurus, like many other species of hummingbirds, are pollinators. They pollinate various tropical plants while feeding on nectar. Oftentimes they pollinate plants used to shade coffee plantations. Without these birds and their relatives, many tropical plants would be unable to reproduce and local coffee production would be reduced. A small group of invertebrates known as hummingbird mites also feed on nectar. They use hummingbirds to transport them from plant to plant to feed on nectar.
Ecosystem Impact: pollinates
- Hummingbird mites
- Coffee & Conservation, 2009. "Coffee and conservation are your beans for the birds" (On-line). Accessed April 05, 2011 at http://www.coffeehabitat.com/2009/09/violet-sabrewing/.
Adult violet sabrewings have few predators. This has been attributed to mostly to their large body size. However, juvenile hummingbirds are threatened by mice and cats. Nest predators are the greatest threat to offspring; these include snakes, jays, toucans, hawks, and a few bats.
Male violet sabrewings are easy to recognize with their bright purple coloring and large size. Females, in contrast, have a cryptic coloration, an adaptation that camouflages them from predators. Female hummingbirds also fly in a zigzag when returning to their nests in order to evade predators.
- snakes (Suborder Serpentes)
- jays (Family Corvidae)
- bats (Suborder Microchiroptera)
- toucans (Family Ramphastidae)
- hawks (Family Accipitridae)
Anti-predator Adaptations: cryptic
Life History and Behavior
Communication and Perception
Campylopterus hemileucurus communicates through calls and songs. Both males and females produce specific calls. These calls are commonly short sharp twitters made while visiting flowers to feed. Males generate high-pitched songs that are used both to attract mates as well as to defend their territories. Like other hummingbirds (Family Trochilidae), the wings of C. hemileucurus create a humming noise during flight.
Campylopterus hemileucurus has excellent visual perception and can see things at far distances. They have color vision and are drawn to brightly colored flowers for their nectar. They also have ultra-violet light perception that aids in their foraging for nectar, since many flowers have such color patterns. They do not have a well-developed sense of smell and generally visit flowers with little to no scent. In addition, their hearing is extremely finely tuned. They can hear high-pitched sounds and detect tiny differences in sound quality.
Like most birds, Campylopterus hemileucurus perceives its environment through visual, tactile, auditory and chemical stimuli.
Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic
Perception Channels: ultraviolet
- Howell, S. 2002. Hummingbirds of North America. San Diego: AP Natural World.
- Perry, L. 2011. "Those hummingbirds in your garden" (On-line). Accessed May 01, 2011 at http://www.uvm.edu/pss/ppp/articles/hummers2.html.
Campylopterus hemileucurus behaves much like other species of hummingbirds during the mating season. Males form groups of six to ten and begin to sing loudly from their leks. Females, upon hearing the mating call, begin to build nests using mosses and other plant material. Grasses and small twigs found throughout the surrounding habitat are used for nest building just before mating. This usually occurs during the rainy season (May through August). Like all hummingbirds and typically all lekking species, C. hemileucurus is polygynous. Pairs remain together only long enough for fertilization. The males then abandon the nest, leaving the females to incubate the eggs and care for the offspring.
Mating System: polygynous
The breeding season for C. hemileucurus occurs during the rainy season from May through August. It is thought that the hummingbirds choose this season for its abundance of food, both for themselves and for the offspring. A clutch size of two eggs per nest is typical. Females incubate these eggs for 20 days. After a few hours of hatching, females begin feeding spiders and fluids to the offspring. About 11 to 12 days later, young nestlings reach their full body mass, with males tending to be larger than females. Nestlings fledge 22 to 24 days after hatching. In many hummingbird species, the female feeds her fledglings for 18 to 25 days after they have left the nest, but exact duration for C. hemileucurus is unknown. Reproductive age is also currently unknown.
Campylopterus hemileucurus usually breeds twice per season. Females typically build a second nest close to or on top of their first.
Breeding interval: Campylopterus hemileucurus breeds two times per season
Breeding season: The breeding season occurs from May through August
Average eggs per season: 2.
Average time to hatching: 21 days.
Range birth mass: 1.05 to 1.17 g.
Range fledging age: 22 to 24 days.
Key Reproductive Features: seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
Female violet sabrewings are the main providers of care for offspring. After the incubation period, females care for the young nestlings even after they have fledged. Within hours of being born, the mothers begin to feed the newborn nestlings a diet that consists of fluids and spiders. During the coming weeks the mother will continue to care for the young protecting them from predators such as other birds, mice, and cats until they have all reached independence and are able to survive on their own.
Parental Investment: altricial ; female parental care ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female); pre-independence (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Female)
- Marin, M. 2001. Postnatal development of the violet sabrewing in Costa Rica. The Wilson Bulletin, 113/1: 110-114.
- Schuchmann, K. 1999. Family Trochilidae. J del Hoyo, A Elliott, S Jordi, eds. Handbook of the Birds of the World, Vol. 5. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Campylopterus hemileucurus
Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.
See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.
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Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Campylopterus hemileucurus
Public Records: 3
Specimens with Barcodes: 9
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
Based on the IUCN Red List, the conservation status of C. hemileucurus is "Least Concern". Populations are not believed to be decreasing rapidly enough to approach the thresholds for "Vulnerable" status.
The major threats to hummingbirds are habitat degradation, loss, and fragmentation. Although violet sabrewings are not listed, most North American species are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. All hummingbird species are listed by CITES in Appendix II except the hook-billed hummingbird (Glaucis dohrnii), which is listed in Appendix I.
CITES: appendix ii
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern
- CITES, 2010. "Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora" (On-line). Accessed April 04, 2011 at http://www.cites.org/eng/app/appendices.shtml.
- Michigan Natural Features Inventory, 2009. "Michigan's Special Animals" (On-line). Accessed April 04, 2011 at http://web4.msue.msu.edu/mnfi/data/specialanimals.cfm#grp3.
- U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 2011. "Migratory Bird Program" (On-line). Accessed April 04, 2011 at http://www.fws.gov/migratorybirds/.
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Economic Importance for Humans: Negative
There are no known adverse affects of C. hemileucurus on humans.
Economic Importance for Humans: Positive
Campylopterus hemileucurus plays a critical role in pollination of neotropical plants. It pollinates a variety of tropical plants, but the most important to humans are trees in the genus (Carpodacus). These trees are important in providing shade for coffee plantations.
Positive Impacts: pollinates crops
It is a species of the understory and edges of mountain forests, especially near streams. The female violet sabrewing lays two white eggs in a relatively large cup nest on a low horizontal branch, usually over a stream.
The violet sabrewing is 15 cm (5.9 in) long; the male weighs 11.5 g (0.41 oz) and the female 9.5 g (0.34 oz). It is the largest hummingbird found outside of South America and the largest sabrewing. The adult male is deep violet, with a dark green back and wing coverts. The shafts of the male’s outer primary flight feathers are thickened and flattened to give the distinctive feature which gives the sabrewings their English and scientific names. The three outer pairs of feathers of the otherwise black tail are white; this gives rise to the scientific species name, hemileucurus translating as "half-white tail", but several other sabrewings share the tail pattern, not least the white-tailed sabrewing of Venezuela and Tobago.
The female is dark green above and grey below apart from a violet throat; the tail pattern is the same as the male's. Young violet sabrewings have buff edges to the feathers and lack any violet, although juvenile males may be dusky green-blue below.
The food of this species is nectar, taken mainly from undergrowth flowers with Heliconias and bananas as favourites. The males are less aggressive and territorial at flowers than their size would suggest.
The call of the violet sabrewing is a sharp twitter, and the song of the male, given at leks of up to ten males, is a high-pitched piercing cheep tsew cheep tik-tik tsew.