Campylopterus hemileucurusviolet sabrewing

Geographic Range

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. ("IUCN Red List of Threatened Species", 2010; Sibley and Monroe Jr, 1990)


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. (Land, 1963; Skutch, et al., 2010)

  • Range elevation
    3,300 to 8,000 m
    to ft

Physical Description

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. (Land, 1963; Marin, 2001; Skutch, et al., 2010)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes colored or patterned differently
  • male more colorful
  • Range mass
    9 to 12 g
    0.32 to 0.42 oz
  • Average length
    15.24 cm
    6.00 in
  • Average wingspan
    82.6 mm
    3.25 in


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. (Marin, 2001)

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. (Marin, 2001; Schuchmann, 1999)

  • Breeding interval
    Campylopterus hemileucurus breeds two times per season
  • Breeding season
    The breeding season occurs from May through August
  • Average eggs per season
  • Average time to hatching
    21 days
  • Range fledging age
    22 to 24 days

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. (Marin, 2001; Schuchmann, 1999)

  • 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


Little or no data has been collected for lifespan of C. hemileucurus or other species in the genus Campylopterus. The average lifespan of hummingbirds in the Family Trochilidae is 3 to 5 years. (Perry, 2011)


Campylopterus hemileucurus is a solitary species that spends about three-fourths of its time perched. Like other hummingbirds, they are very curious and will investigate all potential food sources. They are diurnal, with peak activity during dawn and dusk. They obtain their food throughout the day. They hover in place while feeding by alternating flapping their wings forward and backward. They can hover long enough to lap nectar from flowers. In flight, hummingbirds never stop beating their wings. They can fly backwards and upside down, in addition to their direct flight path. During cold nights, hummingbirds go into torpor in order to conserve energy. Throughout torpor, their body temperature and heartbeat decrease and they take on an irregular breathing pattern.

Tropical hummingbirds, like violet sabrewings, do not migrate. However, they change elevation during seasonal and climatic changes.

Territoriality is critically important among hummingbirds, especially while foraging. Compared to smaller hummingbirds, like ruby-throated hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris), violet sabrewings are not very aggressive. Due to their large size, they dominate during feeding and others often leave when they see this species approaching. (Campbell and Lack, 1985; Gill, 1995; Sktuch and Singer, 1973; Tyrrell and Tyrell, 1985)

Home Range

Average territory size for this species is currently unknown.

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. (Campbell and Lack, 1985; Howell, 2002)

Food Habits

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. (Remsen, et al., 1986; Wagner, 1946)

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • Plant Foods
  • nectar


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. (Campbell and Lack, 1985; Sktuch and Singer, 1973)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

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. (Coffee & Conservation, 2009)

  • Ecosystem Impact
  • pollinates
Commensal/Parasitic Species
  • Hummingbird mites

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. (Coffee & Conservation, 2009)

  • Positive Impacts
  • pollinates crops

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no known adverse affects of C. hemileucurus on humans.

Conservation Status

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. ("IUCN Red List of Threatened Species", 2010; CITES, 2010; Michigan Natural Features Inventory, 2009; U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, 2011)


Patrick Boyd (author), Radford University, Heather Vining (author), Radford University, Christine Small (editor), Radford University, Rachelle Sterling (editor), Special Projects.



living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.

female parental care

parental care is carried out by females


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


An animal that eats mainly plants or parts of plants.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


an animal that mainly eats nectar from flowers


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


having more than one female as a mate at one time

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


lives alone


uses touch to communicate


Living on the ground.


defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


uses sight to communicate


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