ESS - Campylopterus ensipennis (White-tailed Sabrewing Hummingbird)

Campylopterus ensipennis (White-tailed Sabrewing Hummingbird)
The white-tailed sabrewing hummingbird is classified as an Environmentally Sensitive Species in Trinidad and Tobago.
2007 IUCN Red List Category – Near Threatened


Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Trochiliformes
Family: Trochilidae
Genus: Campylopterus
Species: C. ensipennis, Swainson (1822)


Identification: The white-tailed sabrewing is the largest hummingbird in Tobago. The White-tailed Sabrewing is 12 cm long and weighs 10g. The appearance of the sexes is similar, but the female is duller. The black bill is 25 cm long and slightly decurved. The adult male is bright green with a shiny blue throat and a white moustachial stripe.

The three outer pairs of feathers of the tail are white and the shafts of the outer flight feathers are thickened and flattened which gives the distinctive feature of the sabrewings, their English and genus names. In this case, both parts of the scientific name refer to this feature, Campylopterus and ensipennis being derived from the Greek and Latin respectively for "bent wing".

The food of this species is nectar, taken mainly from undergrowth flowers.

Behaviour: Male White-tailed Sabrewing perch conspicuously and defend their territories aggressively against other hummingbirds. This large species is fearless and inquisitive. The call is a rolled chinzink.
Reproduction: In Tobago, males lek all year round but there is a pronounced breeding season during February to April. The female White-tailed Sabrewing lays its two white eggs in a relatively large cup nest on a low branch, often near water.


Population estimate: 500 - 1,000
Population trend: Decreasing
Country endemic: No
Range: This bird inhabits mature montane forest, edges of clearings, shade coffee and abandoned plantations and regenerating forest less than 15 m tall in the Cordillera de Caripe (at 760 - 1,830m) and Paria peninsula (at 400 - 1,200m) in north-east Venezuela, and the Main Ridge down to 100m on Tobago.

The Tobago population was thought to be extinct after hurricane Flora hit the Island in 1963 when almost all the island's forest was destroyed. The species was then rediscovered in 1974, although it remains absent from the south-west (Hillsborough Reservoir) and north-east (Pigeon Peak) portions of its former range. The Venezuela population is also under threat by widespread deforestation.

Sabrewings in Tobago were found in mature montane forest at elevations above 280 m, in open areas such as the edges of clearings, in patches of forest in abandoned plantations, and in regenerating forest less than 15 m tall, suggesting plasticity in ecological requirements.


Loss of habitat by deforestation. Death by natural disasters, e.g. hurricanes.


Current measures: The Environmental Management Authority (EMA), a statutory board, has funded a research project on the sabrewing in Tobago recently; additional support has been received from the Tobago House of Assembly and UWI, St. Augustine. Other current research on the sabrewing utilises mist netting, trail surveys and behavioural observations to continue study of this vulnerable species, which was declared one of the first three Environmentally Sensitive Species by the EMA in 2005.
Birds of Venezuela by Hilty, ISBN 0-7136-6418-5
Birds of Trinidad and Tobago by ffrench, ISBN 0-7136-6759-1
Retrieved from - Steve Garvie (photo credits)

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