Unsorted Wild Birds

Rufous-breasted Sabrewing

The Rufous-breasted Sabrewings (Campylopterus hyperythrus) – sometimes referred to as Tepui Sabrewings (named so for the table mountains they inhabit) – are South American hummingbirds that are sometimes considered conspecific (one and the same species) with the Buff-breasted Sabrewings (Campylopterus duidae).

The Sabrewings are named for their long, sabre-like outermost primary flight feathers, which are thickened, flattened and bent at an angle.

Distribution / Habitat

The Rufous-breasted Sabrewings are generally restricted to the Pantepui region of northern South America, where they occur on isolated table mountains in southeastern Venezuela and adjacent Guyana and northwestern Brazil, at elevations from about 4,000 to 8,500 feet (1,200- 2,600 meters).

Populations are found on the tepuis of Gran Sabana from Auyan-tepui and Sierra de Lema south to Chimanta-tepui, Cerro Roraima and Uei-tepui.

They are most common in Venezuela on Sierra de Lema at 4,265 – 4,757 feet (1,300 – 1,450 meters) and Cerro Roraima at 6,561 feet (2,000 meters).

They inhabit wet forest borders on slopes of tepuis, in particular disturbed areas at borders of stunted, mossy, melastome – and Clusia-dominated forest and tepui-summit scrub.

Within their restricted range, they are fairly common resident (non-migratory), but their numbers tend to fluctuate dramatically. This may be caused by short movements in response to flowering seasons of the plants they feed on or by changing environmental requirements during the breeding seasons.


The Rufous-breasted Sabrewings measure 4 – 5+ inches (10.16 – 12.7+ cm) in length, including the 2-inch (5-cm) tail. The short, slightly down-curved bill measures about 0.8 inches (20 mm). The base of the lower bill is flesh colored.

The head and plumage above is coppery green (sometimes glossy) with a reddish tinge. The wings are purplish-brown. Below they are rufous-colored. The four central tail feathers are reddish-bronze and the outer pair is roufous-colored. The median pair has buff tips and a subterminal black bar, which increases in width towards the outer tail feathers. From below, the tail looks all rufous.

Males and females look alike.

Similar Species:

The Rufous-breasted Sabrewing resembles the related Rufous Sabrewing found in the adjacent lowland areas. The principal difference that distinguishes the Rufous-breasted from the Rufous Sabrewing is that the lateral tail feathers are uniform rufous-colored without the black bar.

Buff-breasted Sabrewings (sometimes considered one and the same species)

Diet / Feeding

The Sabrewings primarily feed on nectar taken from a variety of brightly colored, scented small flowers of trees, herbs, shrubs and epiphytes. They favor heliconia and banana flowers; but may also visit some flowers that open during the night for bats.

They favor flowers with the highest sugar content (often red-colored and tubular-shaped) and seek out, and aggressively protect, those areas containing flowers with high energy nectar. They use their long, extendible, straw-like tongues to retrieve the nectar while hovering with their tails cocked upward as they are licking at the nectar up to 13 times per second. Sometimes they may be seen hanging on the flower while feeding.

Many native and cultivated plants on whose flowers these birds feed heavily rely on them for pollination. The mostly tubular-shaped flowers actually exclude most bees and butterflies from feeding on them and, subsequently, from pollinating the plants.

They show a strong fidelity to some flower patches and may stay around for weeks or as long as the flowers are blooming.

They may also visit local hummingbird feeders for some sugar water, or drink out of bird baths or water fountains where they will either hover and sip water as it runs over the edge; or they will perch on the edge and drink – like all the other birds; however, they only remain still for a short moment.

They also take some small spiders and insects – important sources of protein particularly needed during the breeding season to ensure the proper development of their young. Insects are often caught in flight (hawking); snatched off leaves or branches, or are taken from spider webs. A nesting female can capture up to 2,000 insects a day.

Males establish feeding territories, where they aggressively chase away other males as well as large insects – such as bumblebees and hawk moths – that want to feed in their territory. They use aerial flights and intimidating displays to defend their territories.

Breeding / Nesting

Hummingbirds in general are solitary and neither live nor migrate in flocks; and there is no pair bond for this species – the male’s only involvement in the reproductive process is the actual mating with the female.

During the breeding seasons, male Sabrewings typically gather in leks (competitive mating display) consisting of up to 10 males (most often 4 to 6). The males will sing to the females to gain their goodwill. They may fly in front of them in a u-shaped pattern.

The male will separate from the female immediately after copulation. One male may mate with several females. In all likelihood, the female will also mate with several males. The males do not participate in choosing the nest location, building the nest or raising the chicks.

The female Sabrewing is responsible for building the fairly large cup-shaped nest out of plant fibers woven together and green moss on the outside for camouflage in a protected location in a shrub, bush or tree – usually situated over a stream. She lines the nest with soft plant fibers, animal hair and feather down, and strengthens the structure with spider webbing and other sticky material, giving it an elastic quality to allow it to stretch to double its size as the chicks grow and need more room. The nest is typically found on a low, thin horizontal branch.

The average clutch consists of two white eggs, which she incubates alone, while the male defends his territory and the flowers he feeds on. The young are born blind, immobile and without any down.

The female alone protects and feeds the chicks with regurgitated food (mostly partially-digested insects since nectar is an insufficient source of protein for the growing chicks). The female pushes the food down the chicks’ throats with her long bill directly into their stomachs.

As is the case with other hummingbird species, the chicks are brooded only the first week or two, and left alone even on cooler nights after about 12 days – probably due to the small nest size. The chicks leave the nest when they are about 20 days old.

Calls / Vocalizations / Sounds

While feeding, they make sharp twitter or “chip’ sounds Its call is a sharp twitter. The male’s song is a high-pitched piercing cheep tsew cheep tik-tik tsew. While feeding, they make weak, nasal squeek sounds.

Sound Recording

Alternate (Global) Names

Chinese: ?????? … Czech: Kolibrík rezavobrichý, kolib?ík rezavob?ichý … Danish: Brunbrystet Sabelvinge … Finnish: Kanelisapelikolibri … French: Campyloptère rougetre … German: Rostbauch-Degenflügel … Italian: Campilottero pettorossiccio, Sciabolatore pettorossiccio … Japanese: akaharakembanehachidori, akaharakenbanehachidori … Latin: Campylopterus hyperythrus … Dutch: Roodborstsabelvleugel … Norwegian: Tepuisabelvinge … Polish: zapylak rdzawosterny … Portuguese: Asa-de-sabre-canela … Russian: ?????????? ????????? … Slovak: kolibrík cervenkastý, kolibrík ?ervenkastý … Spanish: Ala de Sable Acanelada, Colibrí Rojizo Venezolano … Swedish: Brunbröstad sabelvinge


Gordon Ramel

Gordon is an ecologist with two degrees from Exeter University. He's also a teacher, a poet and the owner of 1,152 books. Oh - and he wrote this website.

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