Skip to Content

What is the brightly colored hummingbird?

What is the brightly colored hummingbird?

Hummingbirds are known for their small size, incredible speed, and beautiful, iridescent plumage. But of the over 300 different hummingbird species in the world, some stand out as particularly colorful and brilliant. In this article, we’ll explore some of the most vibrantly colored hummingbirds and examine what makes their feathers so remarkably bright.

From shimmering greens and blues to radiant reds and purples, these tiny birds display a stunning array of hues. Their feathers gleam as though they were touched by rainbows. But why are some hummingbirds more chromatic than others? The answer lies in the structure of their plumage.

Anatomy of hummingbird feathers

Like all birds, hummingbirds have feathers covering their bodies. But hummingbird feathers have special properties that allow them to reflect light. Their feathers contain pigments as well as tiny air bubbles and reflective plates that work together to produce iridescent colors.

The pigments absorb certain wavelengths of light and reflect others, producing a specific color. The air bubbles and plates then scatter the reflected light, causing it to shimmer and shift in hue. By precisely angling these reflecting structures, hummingbirds can fine-tune the way their feathers interact with light.

Some parts of the feather, like the tips, may be pigmented one color, while other parts are structured to reflect a different hue. This allows for combinations of colors in a single feather. The complexity of hummingbird plumage means their feathers can display a kaleidoscopic mix of brilliant tones.

Most vibrantly colored hummingbirds

With an understanding of how their iridescence works, let’s look at some of the most spectacularly-hued hummingbirds flying through the Americas today.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird lives in eastern North America. As its name suggests, the male has a gleaming red throat. But in the right light, the reds shimmer into pops of orange and even a hint of green. The male’s back is an emerald color, while his belly is grayish white. When the Ruby-throat darts through sunbeams, he sparkles like a living rainbow.

Anna’s Hummingbird

Native to western North America, the male Anna’s Hummingbird displays a rose-pink head and throat. His flanks gleam an iridescent emerald green. The Anna’s male has the deepest red colors of any North American hummingbird. The hue results from exceptionally dense deposits of pigments in his feathers. When he’s in flight, you may catch flashes of brilliant fuchsia and purple as he catches the light.

Violet-tailed Sylph

This aptly named hummingbird lives in the cloud forests of South America. True to his title, the male Violet-tailed Sylph has dramatic violet coloring on his outer tail feathers. His throat glows metallic green, while his belly shines teal blue. The female Sylph is more subdued, with white underparts and green on the tail. But both male and female have the longest tail feathers relative to body size of any hummingbird species. This exaggerates their colorful plumage.

Green-tailed Trainbearer

Also found in South America, the male Green-tailed Trainbearer lives up to his name with two extravagantly long tail feathers extending beyond his body. These feathers are a vivid iridescent green and give the bird a unique look in flight. The male’s throat and forehead flush a bright magenta, while his breast gleams in shades of emerald, teal, and gold. The female has more white on her underparts, which emphasizes the male’s flamboyant colors.

Why such vibrant colors?

Hummingbirds didn’t evolve outrageously neon plumage just to look pretty. Their bright colors actually serve important purposes:

  • Attracting mates – Females select males with the brightest, most vibrant coloring to ensure healthy, robust offspring.
  • Competition – Dominant males with intense hues warn rivals away from their territory.
  • Camouflage – Iridescence helps hummingbirds blend into leafy, dappled surroundings.
  • Thermoregulation – Dark pigments may help absorb heat, while reflective surfaces could keep birds cool.

So a flaming fuchsia throat or shockingly blue crown signals desirable traits that improve breeding success. The most vividly colored males tend to be healthier and hold better territory. Over generations, bold colors evolved through sexual selection and competition.

Colorful species worldwide

While we’ve focused on the Western Hemisphere, hummingbirds around the globe boast spectacular hues. For example:

  • The Violet-fronted Brilliant of sub-Saharan Africa has gleaming violet plumage on its head and throat.
  • South Asia’s colorful Crimson Sunbird has a metallic red throat, yellow belly, and teal crown.
  • Australia’s Rainbow Bee-eater birds display a rainbow of turquoise, red, yellow, and green markings.

So no matter which continents they call home, hummingbirds are some of the most vibrantly feathered birds. Their jewel-toned plumage lights up forests worldwide.


With shimmering red throats, opalescent emerald flanks, and sapphire tails, hummingbirds display nature’s palette in all its glory. Structural adaptations allow them to fine-tune their iridescent colors using specialized pigments and reflective layers in their feathers.

Vibrant hues play key roles in mating, communication, and camouflage. So evolution has selected for intensifying, dazzling displays. Hummingbirds’ diminutive size belies their brilliant beauty as they flit through sunlight. These tiny dynamos wear a coat of many colors – one created by physics, optimized by nature, and admired by all.

Data Table

Hummingbird Species Location Coloration
Ruby-throated Hummingbird Eastern North America Red throat, green back, white belly
Anna’s Hummingbird Western North America Pink head and throat, green flanks
Violet-tailed Sylph South America Violet outer tail, green throat, blue belly
Green-tailed Trainbearer South America Long green tail, magenta head and throat