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Campylopterus hemileucurus

Violet Sabrewing

  • Order: Apodiformes
  • Family: Trochilidae
  • Polytypic 2 Subspecies

Authors: Dema L, Tshering



Sabrewings (Campylopterus) are large hummingbirds, with a strong, slightly decurved bill. They take the name "sabrewing" from the structure of the outer primaries. In the male, the outermost primaries are thickened and somewhat flattened, and are curved at an angle; this combination of features resembles a sabre. The Violet Sabrewing is 13-15 cm long. The male is dark green on the back and rump, and deep violet purple on the head and underparts.  The female is paler green above, and mostly light gray below, with a blue throat.

Similar Species

Difficult to confuse with any other species. The male Violet Sabrewing in particular is very distinctive. Locally in southern Mexico, the Violet Sabrewing may overlap with Blue-throated Hummingbird (Lampornis clemenciae), another large species with large white tail spots. The Blue-throated Hummingbird, however, has a long straight bill, and a white postocular stripe.


The song of the Violet Sabrewing is described as "a long series of evenly spaced but variable notes: cheep tsew cheep tik-tik tsew cheep ..., high-pitched, piercing and ventriloquial" (Stiles and Skutch 1989), and as "varied, loud, sharp chipping and warbles, often punctuated with fairly shrill, slightly explosive notes" (Howell and Webb 1995).

Calls are "high, sharp chippering and prolonged, hard chipping, at times run into a rattle, [also] single sharp chips given in flight" (Howell and Webb 1995).

Nonvocal Sounds

None reported.

Detailed Description (appearance)

The following description is based on Wetmore (1968); see also Ridgway (1911).

Adult, male: Shaft of outer primaries thickened and curved. Crown dusky, glossed with bluish green. Nape and upper back, sides of the head, and underparts metallic violet blue, becoming bluer on the belly. Scapulars, wing coverts, lower back, and uppertail coverts metallic green. Central rectrices bluish green to bluish black; outer rectrices blacker, and broadly tipped with white. Remiges dusky, with a violet gloss.

Female Violet Sabrewing, Mirador de Catarata, Costa Rica, June 24, 2007, © Christopher Wood.Adult, female: Crown dusky. Remaining upperparts metallic green to bronze green, becoming more bluish green on the lower rump. Central rectrices bluish green. Outer rectrices blacker, and broadly tipped with white. Underparts gray, whiter on the belly, and spotted on the sides with metallic green. Throat violet-blue. Undertail coverts green.

Immature, male: Upperparts resemble adult female. "Underparts blackish green, often with some violet in throat" (Howell and Webb 1995).

Immature, female: Similar to adult female, "but throat pale gray with a few violet spots" (Howell and Webb 1995).

Bare Parts

Bill: Black

Toes: Black

Data from Stiles and Skutch (1989)


Total length: 14-15 cm (Howell and Webb 1995), 14.5-15 cm (Wetmore 1968), 15 cm (Stiles and Skutch 1989)

Linear measurements (mm) of Campylopterus hemileucurus (Wetmore 1968)
     wing  tail  culmen (from base)
  male  mean  79.4  56.6   31.9
   range (n= 16)  77.7-81.8  55.0-59.6   29.8-33.7
  female  mean   74.3   52.4   34.5
   range (n = 7)   73.3-76.0  51.2-54.0   33.2-35.6

Mass: mean, males, 11.9 g (n=3; range 11.2-13.3 g; Hartman 1954)


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Geographic Variation

Two subspecies recognized:

hemileucurus (Lichtenstein 1830). Type locality Mexico.

Occurs from southern Mexico south to Nicaragua. See Detailed Description.

mellitus Bangs 1902. Type locality Boquete, southern slope of Volcán de Chiriquí, Panamá.

Occurs in Costa Rica and western Panama. Similar to hemileucurus, but larger, with longer bill. Underparts of male more uniformly violet, not shading to blue on the belly. Upperparts (male) more extensively green, or (female) with coppery tinge. Also, throat of female more violet, less blue.


Phylogenetic analysis of DNA sequence data reveals that hummingbirds (Trochilidae) constitute nine major clades, comprising the hermits, mangos, Patagona, topazes, coquettes, brilliants, mountain-gems, bees, and emeralds (McGuire et al. 2007). Sabrewings (Campylopterus), including the Violet Sabrewing (C. hemileucurus) belong to the emerald clade.  According to this estimate, Campylopterus is sister to a clade made up of Antillean Crested Hummingbird (Orthorhyncus cristatus) and Violet-headed Hummingbird (Klais guimeti). Presumably the genera Abeillia, Stephanoxis, and Phaeochroa also are closely related to the Onychorhynchus-Klais-Campylopterus clade (McGuire et al. 2008), but were not included among the taxa investigated in this research.

Recommended Citation

Dema L, Tshering. 2011. Violet Sabrewing (Campylopterus hemileucurus), Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: