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.
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 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.
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).
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)