17 Strange and Beautiful Hummingbird Species

brilliant strange and beautiful hummingbird species illustration

Treehugger / Ellen Lindner

Like bats, bees, and other insects, hummingbirds are important pollinators. And with their brilliant colors, rapidly fluttering wings, and rapier-like bills, they fulfill their ecological duties with immense grace and flair. There are more than 300 species of hummingbirds, and more than 60 are either near threatened, vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered.

With so many species existing within the Trochilidae family, it's no surprise that the "unfooted" birds — called so because of their inability to walk on ground — vary greatly in size, shape, and coloration.

Here are some of the strangest and most beautiful hummingbirds.

1
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Rufous-Breasted Hummingbird

Flying roufous-breasted hummingbird with red flower in foreground
Ondrej Prosicky / Getty Images

The rufous-breasted hermit (Glaucis hirsutus), also called a hairy hermit, is a picky eater. It will only feed from flowers whose corolla (the whorl of petals that leads down into the nectaries) length and curvature exactly matches that of its bill. Interestingly, the males and females have differently shaped bills, an evolutionary trait that researchers think cuts down on food-related competition.

These birds are bronze-green with rufous-colored undersides. They have a broad distribution from Panama throughout the Caribbean.

2
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Long-Tailed Sylph

Back of a long-tailed sylph sucking nectar from pink flowers
Ondrej Prosicky / Getty Images

Male long-tailed sylphs (Aglaiocercus kingii) have amazingly long (around five-inch) tails — so long they actually hamper the birds' flight, requiring males to be especially strong and skilled fliers to survive to breeding age. Females choose their mates based on the size of those tail feathers, as they are a symbol of strength and fitness.

Males also exhibit a stunning iridescent blue and green coloring. Long-tailed sylphs prefer high elevations. They occur most commonly in the Andes, from Venezuela to Bolivia.

3
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Rufous-Crested Coquette

Rufous-crested coquette hummingbird sitting on a twig
Quynh Ton / 500px / Getty Images

Coquettes are some of the smallest species of hummingbird, and the rufous-crested coquette (Lophornis delattrei) measures only about 2.5 inches in length and weighs less than .1 of an ounce. Both sexes are identifiable by their rufous-colored foreheads, but males have more distinguishable, spiky crests and iridescent green necks. They occur throughout southern Central America and pacific South America.

4
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Ruby-Topaz Hummingbird

Ruby Topaz hummingbird with wings spread on a branch
Chelsea Sampson / Getty Images

Although ruby-topaz hummingbirds (Chrysolampis mosquitus) are dainty — weighing only .12 of an ounce — the males can be quite aggressive when defending their territories from competitors. These birds inhabit open country and gardens throughout northern South America, southern Panama, and Trinidad. Males have glossy red crowns and napes and green-glossed brown upperparts, whereas females are a little less colorful and have green throat streaks.

5
of 17

Anna's Hummingbird

Anna's hummingbird stretching wings on a branch
bmse / Getty Images

Anna's hummingbird (Calypte anna) is one of the most common hummingbirds on the Pacific Coast. These birds exhibit fascinating courtship dances consisting of the males — who have magenta crowns — repeatedly flying up to 130 feet into the sky and then diving down at alarming speeds. Anna's hummingbirds are also known for being especially vocal. While courting females, males will sing long, buzzy songs.

6
of 17

White-Booted Racket-Tail Hummingbird

White-booted racket-tail hummingbird approaching a pink flower
neil bowman / Getty Images

White-booted racket-tail hummingbirds (Ocreatus underwoodii) are known for their wispy leg puffs — "booties" — and two elongated tail feathers ending in iridescent, racket-like flares. Only males have the latter feature. Because the white-booted racket-tail hummingbird can reach into the long tubular flowers that exclude bees or butterflies from access, many flowering plants in their native South America rely on the species for pollination.

7
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Cinnamon Hummingbird

Cinnamon hummingbird with tongue perched out on a branch
Ondrej Prosicky / Getty Images

The cinnamon hummingbird (Amazilia rutila) — clearly named for its color — is a long-winged variation endemic to western Mexico and down to northwestern Costa Rica. It thrives in dry forests, and is sometimes even spotted as far north as Texas and the southwest U.S. Besides its medium-brown underside, the bird can be identified by its dark wings and red, black-tipped bill.

8
of 17

Green Hermit

Side view of green hermit hummingbird mid-flight
Dewald Reiners / Getty Images

The green hermit (Phaethornis guy) is one of the larger hummingbird species, measuring about 5.3 inches in body length. The males have shorter tails than the females — a rarity among bird species — but they still proudly wiggle their white-tipped tail feathers during competitive displays with other males as they vie for potential mates. Their distribution ranges from southern Central America to northern South America.

9
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Rufous-Tailed Hummingbird

Rufous-tailed hummingbird with multicolored wings spread in flight
KenCanning / Getty Images

Not to be confused with the rufous-breasted hermit, the rufous-tailed hummingbird (Amazilia tzacatl) exhibits its namesake brilliant red on its tail rather than its chest. This is a common bird to find on riverbanks and woodlands from east-central Mexico south through western Ecuador. It occurs everywhere from open country to forest edges and even coffee plantations. It also loves to feed on the flowers of banana trees. Highly aggressive about defending its feeding territory, the rufous-tailed hummingbird is usually the dominant hummingbird in its area.

10
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Brown Violetear

Brown violetear on a branch with tail feathers spread
Doug Cheeseman / Getty Images

The brown violetear (Colibri delphinae) may appear drab on the surface, but it sports some vivid iridescent feathers under its throat and over its ears, hence the name. Males flare their bright violet feathers out while performing an elaborate, U-shaped courtship dance around females. They can be found in the canopy of rain forests, in tall second growth forests, and in coffee plantations. In fact, plantations that use shade growing methods help birds (and other native pollinators) thrive by providing both a food source and the shrubby habitat needed for shelter and breeding.

11
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Green Crowned Brilliant

Green-crowned brilliant hummingbird perched on feeder
Simon Marlow / EyeEm / Getty Images

The emerald green-crowned brilliant (Heliodoxa jacula) is one of the larger hummingbird species — just over five inches in length — and is found in highlands from Costa Rica to western Ecuador. While most hummingbird species hover over flowers while feeding, the green crowned brilliant almost always perches on the flowers as it drinks their nectar. Males differ from females in their violet-blue throat patches, white thighs, and deeply forked tails.

12
of 17

Chestnut-Breasted Coronet

Chestnut-breasted coronet perched on a branch
Hal Beral / Getty Images

The chestnut-breasted coronet (Boissonneaua matthewsii) is admired for the striking contrast between its rufous-colored underbody and the bright green along its head and back. One of its other signature traits, it holds its wings upright over its back immediately after landing on a new perch. The chestnut-breasted coronet can be found on the eastern slopes of the Andes mountains.

13
of 17

White-Crowned Hummingbird

White-crowned hummingbird in flight caching a water drop
Christopher Jimenez Nature Photo / Getty Images

Also known as snowcaps, white-crowned hummingbirds (Microchera albocoronata) are called so because of the colorless patches that males have on their heads. Females lack this identifiable trait and are more bronze-green compared to the males' deep purple. Despite their standout features, snowcaps are difficult to find as they are extremely localized (to Central American cloud forests) and do not visit feeders. They are only 2.5 inches long and weigh less than a penny, further complicating human search efforts.

14
of 17

Ecuadorian Hillstar

Ecuadorian hillstar hummingbird on a branch amid flowers
Daniel A. Leifheit / Getty Images

The Ecuadorian hillstar (Oreotrochilus chimborazo) lives at high altitudes in the Andes, feeding along the slopes right up to the snow line. Because these birds live in such cold areas year-round, they conserve energy by taking shelter in protected roosts and going into torpor (a state of lowered metabolic rate, heart rate, oxygen intake, and body temperature) at night.

15
of 17

White-Necked Jacobin Hummingbird

White-necked jacobin hummingbird flying with white tail extended
Christopher Jimenez Nature Photo / Getty Images

It's hard to miss a male white-necked jacobin hummingbird (Florisuga mellivora), with its bright white belly, majestic tail, and royal blue head. They are found between Mexico and south Brazil, all the way to the Caribbean island of Trinidad and Tobago. Like many hummingbird species, this one feeds not only on nectar and small insects, from which it gets its protein. It catches bug prey by snatching it in mid-air, a technique called "hawking."

16
of 17

Velvet-Purple Coronet

Velvet-purple coronet hummingbird feeding on pink flower

Juan Carlos Vindas / Getty Images

The velvet-purple coronet (Boissonneaua jardini), native to the humid foothill forests of western Colombia and northwestern Ecuador, has such a rich coloration it may appear black at first. When the light catches its iridescent plumage, though, flashes of vivid purple, blue, and green appear. The underparts of its wings are a contrasting chestnut color.

17
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Green-Throated Mango

Green-throated mango perched on a branch

Stephen Horvath / Flickr / CC BY-ND 2.0

The green-throated mango (Anthracothorax viridigula) loves mangrove and swamp forests, and can be found along a narrow strip of the Atlantic Coast along the north and south of the Amazon river outlet. Though there is still much to be discovered about the species, it is known that its Trinidad population is on the decline due to the loss of swamp and mangrove habitat. The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources still lists it as a species of least concern.

View Article Sources
  1. Temeles, Ethan, et al. "Evolution of Sexual Dimorphism in Bill Size and Shape of Hermit Hummingbirds (Phaethornithinae): a Role for Ecological Causation." Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, vol. 365, no. 1543, 2010, pp. 1053-1063., doi:10.1098/rstb.2009.0284

  2. "Long-Tailed Sylph." Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

  3. "Rufous-Crested Coquette." Hummingbird Society.

  4. "Anna's Hummingbird." Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

  5. "Green Hermit." Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

  6. Dearborn, Donald. "Interspecific Territoriality by a Rufous-Tailed Hummingbird (Amazilia tzacatl): Effects of Intruder Size and Resource Value." Biotropica, vol. 40, no. 2, 1998, pp. 306-313.

  7. "Green-Crowned Hummingbird." Avibase.

  8. "Green-Throated Mango." Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

  9. "Green-throated Mango: Anthracothorax viridigula." The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, 2016, p. e.T22687122A93141043., doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-3.RLTS.T22687122A93141043.en