Tuesday 21 May
Sapphire-bellied hummingbird (Lepidopyga lilliae)
What’s the World’s Favourite Species?Find out here.
Sapphire-bellied hummingbird fact file
- Find out more
- Print factsheet
Sapphire-bellied hummingbird description
A tiny yet brightly-coloured hummingbird, the sapphire-bellied hummingbird (Lepidopyga lilliae) gets its name from the glittering sapphire-blue plumage on the underside of the male, which becomes a darker iridescent purple towards the bill. The male has dark blue-black plumage on the lower parts of the wing and on the distinctly forked tail (2).
The male and female sapphire-bellied hummingbird are similar in appearance, but the female will often have duller feathers overall. Both the male and female sapphire-bellied hummingbird have shiny blue-green plumage on the back, but the female has grey, thickly spotted plumage on the underside. The female also has bluish feathers on the breast and flanks which fade towards the belly, becoming plain grey from the lower belly to the undertail coverts before fading into a green-black forked tail. Juvenile birds have the same appearance as the female. Both the male and the female have a straight bill measuring a few centimetres in length, which is black at the tip and on the upper mandible but red underneath (2).
The common name given to species in the Trochilidae family (hummingbirds) is derived from the characteristic humming sound made by their incredibly fast wing beats. Male hummingbirds use a monosyllabic high-pitched chirp to attract females while fluttering their feathers as part of a mating ritual. Unmelodious calls, often lasting less than a second, are uttered by both male and female hummingbirds between feeding probes or from exposed perches (4).
- Colibrí Ventrizafiro.
Sapphire-bellied hummingbird biology
The sapphire-bellied hummingbird is an omnivore, feeding mainly on insects caught among the mangroves. It also feeds on nectar from the flowers of the tea mangrove (Pelliciera rhizophorae), which it accesses with its bill by licking the flower with its forked tongue (7). This species is predated by larger birds including orioles (family Oriolidae) and also by large insects such as the praying mantis (4).
The male sapphire-bellied hummingbird is polygamous, mating with several different females. Interactions between the male and female hummingbird are normally restricted to short courtship or displays (4), with the male advertising himself to the female with vocalisations and displays of his iridescent plumage. The female sapphire-bellied hummingbird builds the nest in a tree (6), and usually lays two eggs in a clutch (8). This species lives for an average of eight years (8).
Hummingbirds have incredible adaptations for flight, using their pectoral muscles on the upstroke of a wing beat as well as on the downstroke, enabling them to beat their wings up to 200 times per second and further allowing them to hover (9). This is one of the most energetically expensive forms of animal locomotion, but it permits a hummingbird to feed from the nectaries of flowers without perching (10).Top
Sapphire-bellied hummingbird range
The sapphire-bellied hummingbird is endemic to the Caribbean coast of Colombia, around Atlantico, Magdalena and La Guajira. Most of the recent recordings originated in Isla de Salamanca and the Cienage Grande de Santa Marta National Parks (5). The sapphire-bellied hummingbird has a restricted range and is considered rare at its few known locations (2).Top
Sapphire-bellied hummingbird habitat
The sapphire-bellied hummingbird is a non-migratory bird and is restricted to the coastal mangrove forests of northern Colombia (6). This species also shows a preference for Erythrina fusca forests during the flowering period (5).Top
Sapphire-bellied hummingbird statusTop
Sapphire-bellied hummingbird threats
The sapphire-bellied hummingbird population has undergone a considerable and continuing decline from the mid-1970s. The current population size is very small, with as few as 50 to 249 birds thought to remain in the 160 square kilometre range occupied by this species (2). The most significant cause of its decline is habitat loss (5).
In the 1970s, a pipeline was built through the wetlands of the Cienaga Grande de Santa Marta and Isla de Salamanca National Parks. This obstructed the tidal flow and caused extensive loss of mangrove habitat. Destruction of the habitat continued at least until 1992, although the mangroves are now regenerating in some areas (5).
Domestic and industrial pollution, urbanisation and mangrove cutting all pose further problems to this species. Another potentially severe threat to the remaining mangrove habitat of the sapphire-bellied hummingbird is the sale of land to build a large-scale port development (5).Top
Sapphire-bellied hummingbird conservation
The sapphire-bellied hummingbird is included on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which should regulate international trade in this species (3).
There is currently very little being done to conserve the sapphire-bellied hummingbird, which, although Critically Endangered, remains poorly known. The Isla de Salamanca National Park receives very little effective protection, and habitat loss in this area in particular has been considerable. Despite a number of searches, very few records of the sapphire-bellied hummingbird were obtained from within the national park during the 1990s and 2000s. However, the Corporación Sentido Natural and the Fundación Colibri are currently researching the taxonomic status and ecological requirements of this species (5).
Proposed conservation measures include studies to clarify the distribution, population, taxonomic status and ecological requirements of the sapphire-bellied hummingbird. Improvements to the active protection of Isla de Salamanca National Park and an increase in the areas of suitable habitat that are protected have also been recommended (5).Top
Find out more
Find out more about the sapphire-bellied hummingbird and other bird species:
BirdLife International - Sapphire-bellied hummingbird:
This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
- Small feathers concealing the bases of larger flight feathers, usually on the wings or tail.
- A species or taxonomic group that is only found in one particular country or geographic area.
- In birds, the lower jaw and beak, but the term is also used to denote the two parts of the beak.
- An organism that feeds on both plants and animals.
- Mating with more than one partner in the same season.
- Relating to taxonomy, the science of classifying organisms, grouping together animals which share common features and are thought to have a common ancestor.
IUCN Red List (July, 2012)
- Strattersfield, A. and Capper, D. (2000) Threatened Birds of the World. Lynx Edicions Barcelona.
CITES (November, 2011)
- del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1999) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 5: Barn-Owls to Hummingbirds. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
BirdLife International (November, 2011)
- Hilty, S.L. and Brown, B. (1986) A Guide to the Birds of Colombia. Princeton University Press, New Jersey.
Luther, D. (2011) Sapphire-bellied hummingbird (Lepidopyga lilliae). In: Neotropical Birds Online. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca. Available at:
- Kirby, E. and Kirby, M. (1874) Hummingbirds. Digital Scanning Inc, Scituate.
- Altshuler, D.L. and Dudley, R. (2003) Kinematics of hovering hummingbird flight along simulated and natural elevational gradients. The Journal of Experimental Biology, 206: 3139-3147.
- Altshuler D.L., Dudley, R. and McGuire, J.A. (2004) Resolution of a paradox: hummingbird flight at high elevation does not come without a cost. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 101(51): 17731- 17736.
Terms and Conditions of Use of Materials
Visitors to this website (End Users) are entitled to:
- view the contents of, and Material on, the website;
Additional use of flagged material
Green flagged material
Creative commons material
Any other use