Green Hummingbirds in Colombia Home » Forums » Birding » About Birds

Colombia has quite a few generic green hummingbirds which can be hard
to differentiate. This article focuses on three: the Steely-vented
Hummingbird, Red-billed Emerald, and Shining-green Hummingbird. The
Blue-tailed Emerald and Western Emerald can often be differentiated by
their range. Hilty mentions the White-tailed Sapphire as being
similar, but the black-tipped bill seems to be a giveaway. And the
Short-tailed Emerald is found at higher altitudes than the three
mentioned in this article, and apparently has differentiating

At the ProAves El Paujil reserve at 200 meters in the Magdalena Valley
were a number of different green hummingbirds at the feeders. A
number of people more experienced than I had differing opinions on the
birds. These people visited at different times and saw possibly
different birds, so drawing any conclusions is very difficult.

At first it seemed the birds with red on the bills were Red-billed
Emeralds, and those slightly larger with black decurved bills were
Shining-green Hummingbirds. But Hilty does not talk about a decurved
bill on the Shining-green Hummingbird. And a later observer pointed
out that the red-billed birds did not have the green vent that
Emeralds should have, and were possibly Shining-green Hummingbirds.
But I did not see the green central tail feather on any of the birds I
photographed, ruling out the Shining-green. I suggested they were all
Steely-vented, a common feeder species, but that was not suggested by
anyone, perhaps because it is the least interesting possibility. And
that theory has some issues as well (mainly the forked tail).

This chart is just for males and summarizes Hilty; no female Shining-green Hummingbird or Red-bill Emerald was seen at the feeders.

Steely-vented Hummingbird Red-billed Emerald Shining-green Hummingbird
size 8.9cm 7.6 cm 9.1 cm
tail slightly forked tail
tail deeply forked
steely blue-black
tail forked blue black
central feathers bronze-green
bill straight, 18mm. Lower
mandible pinkish tipped dusky
straight 13mm with lower
mandible mostly red or red at base
Virtually straight, 18mm
lower mandible mostly pink
vent Undertail coverts blue edged white Undertail coverts green Undertail coverts green edged white
other Upper tail coverts coppery bronze Throat/chest tinged blue

Shining-green Hummingbird?
Shining-green Hummingbird?
The Shining-green Hummingbird is larger than an Emerald (Hummingbird) and has a black decurved bill according to some experienced people, but not described so in Hilty's textbook. The holes in the feathers in the first photo fit the description in Hilty of the female. And the second photo has the blue-tinged chest and possibly correct vent colors.

Steely-vented Hummingbird?
Steely-vented Hummingbird?
Steely-vented Hummingbird?
Steely-vented Hummingbird?
Of the four above, there is evidence of the dusky tipped bill and coppery rump. No evidence of the central green tail feather of the Shining-green (something I have never seen in any photo anywhere). But especially the last photo doesn't feel like a Steely-vented. The tail is very forked and the bird is leaning forward reminding me more of an Emerald.

Shining-green, other subspecies

There is now a photo of a Shining-green Hummingbird with a green central tail feather here.


Apparently according to the Hilty text, the central tail feather being blue and not green confirms this is a Red-billed Emerald and not a Shining-green Hummingbird. It also looks like an Emerald. However I've studied everything I can find about those two species, and from the front this looks more like a Shining-green than it looks like a Red-billed from the back. I have never seen the central green tail feather described by Hilty, but I finally learned that the subspecies of Shining-green at this location has a blue central tail feather. Solved!

I have concluded

that all of these birds are Shining-green Hummingbirds. Not sure that is correct, but the front sides look more like a SG than the backsides look like a RBE.