Brilliant Hummingbirds – Taxonomy of the Heliantheini Tribe

This tribe was named Heliantheinae by naturalist Ludwig Reichenbach in 1854. The species of hummingbirds in this tribe are also called brilliants
The subfamily Lesbiinae contains two tribes: Lesbiini and Heliantheini. The tribe Heliantheini, otherwise known as the "Brilliants" contains 53 species divided into 14 genera. 

This tribe was named Heliantheinae by naturalist Ludwig Reichenbach in 1854. The species of hummingbirds in this tribe are also called brilliants.

Cladogram of Lesbiinae Clades and Subspecies

As defined by Dickinson & Remsen according to the phylogenetic studies done by Jimmy McGuire

Subfamilies in Heliantheini Family

Helientheini tribe species characteristics

The tribe Heliantheini contains 14 genera and 53 species:


These hummingbirds are also known as pufflegs, and are recognizable by their copper and green feathers, blue tails, and dark bills. You can predominantly find them in humid lowland forests, woodlands, and shrubs in the Andes of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.

The Greenish puffleg

The Greenish puffleg (Haplophaedia aureliae) can be found in Colombia, Panama, and Ecuador. This is a green hummingbird with white puffs at leg bases, a small straight bill, scaled underparts, a black tail, and a coppery shiny head.

The Buff-thighed puffleg (Haplophaedia assimilis) can be found in Bolivia and Peru. This is a thin, straight-billed green hummingbird with an iridescent blue tail. As the name says, their feet are puffy and cream-colored. Females have grayer bellies than males. 

The Hoary puffleg (Haplophaedia lugens) are hummingbirds in Ecuador and Colombia. They have gray and white scaly underparts and greenbacks. Males have noticeable white leg puffs, whereas females have smaller ones.


These hummingbirds are also known as pufflegs – together with the Haplophaedia genus. Most of the subspecies can be found in the Midlands, shrubs, and humid forests of the Andes in Argentina, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela, and Colombia.

The black-breasted puffleg, Eriocnemis nigrivestis, is an endangered species endemic to Ecuador. The male has a blue-green body, white leg puffs, and a blue vent. Females are green with a golden hue and have blue throat patches and vents.

Gorgeted puffleg, Eriocnemis isabellae is a Colombia native. The male has a black body, iridescent blue throat, white leg puffs, and a blue vent. Female has buffy underparts, greenbacks, faint whisker markings, and smaller leg puffs;

Glowing puffleg, Eriocnemis vestita hummingbird

Glowing puffleg, Eriocnemis vestita can be found in Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and Venezuela. They have white leg puffs and green bodies. Males have an emerald blue gorget and blue underpart. Females are paler and more spotted.

Black-thighed puffleg, Eriocnemis derbyi, typically spends time in Ecuador and Colombia. The male is dark green with a lighter rump and vent and has black leg puffs. Females are green with white leg puffs, blue crowns, and white breast scales.

The turquoise-throated puffleg, Eriocnemis godini, is a “critically endangered” species in Ecuador. The male has a bluish-purple neck patch and blue under tail coverts. Like most pufflegs, It has green plumage and puffy legs.

Coppery-bellied puffleg, Eriocnemis cupreoventris, can be seen in Venezuela and Colombia. Males resemble females and have green bodies with coppery bellies, sapphire under tail coverts, and white leg puffs.

Sapphire-vented puffleg, Eriocnemis Luciani  hummingbird

Sapphire-vented puffleg, Eriocnemis Luciani – You can see this hummingbird in Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and Venezuela. They have a long tail, blue vent, blue crown, and white leg puffs – some types may have a coppery nape and bluish or white belly.

Golden-breasted puffleg, Eriocnemis Mosquera hummingbird

Golden-breasted puffleg, Eriocnemis Mosquera, can be found in Ecuador and Colombia. Males resemble females with golden breasts, green-bronze forked tails, and white leg puffs.

Blue-capped puffleg, Eriocnemis glaucopoides are mostly found in Argentina and Bolivia. Males have white leg puffs and blue crowns. Females have orange underparts and metallic blue under tail coverts.

Colorful puffleg, Eriocnemis mirabilis, is a native of Colombia. Males have iridescent green bodies with red vents, blue bellies, and white leg puffs. Females are mostly dark-colored but have obvious leg puffs.

emerald bellied puggleghummingbird

Emerald-bellied puffleg, Eriocnemis alien, is mostly seen flying in Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador. Males resemble females and have green feathers, an underside white spot, sometimes shiny blue underparts, and white leg puffs.


Unfortunately, the marvelous spatuletail (Loddigesia mirabilis) is considered an endangered species because of habitat loss. However, you can see some hummingbirds in Peru, as they are natives. They love hovering around montane scrublands, forest edges, and secondary forests.The male has an extravagant tail, blue crown, and green gorget. Females have a white mark below the eye, speckles on the throat, and extended tail feathers with blunt points.


Shining sunbeams (Aglaeactis cupripennis) inhabit grasslands, shrubs, and cloudforests in Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador. These are large hummingbirds with small bills, dark-brown plumage, and lilac-gold iridescence.

The White-tufted sunbeam (Aglaeactis castelnaudii) likes dry climates, evergreen forests, montane forests, and open shrubs; in Peru. A big hummingbird with an orange-brown body, purple back, a golden tail, and white breast tuft.

The Purple-backed sunbeam (Aglaeactis aliciae) inhabits Peru’s tropical and subtropical shrublands and plantations. This hummingbird has brown feathers, white patches on the head, and spottings on its breast. Males have purple and green lower back iridescence.

The Black-hooded sunbeam (Aglaeactis Pamela) inhabits Bolivia’s humid scrublands and cloud forests. A hummingbird with a mostly black body contrasts with the white breast feathers and shiny blue rump.


The Bronzy Inca (Coeligena coeligena) loves open landscapes, humid forest edges, and coffee plantations in Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, and Peru. Males resemble females, large birds with dull brown plumage, pale and scaly throats, and straight bills.

The Brown Inca (Coeligena wilsoni) inhabits cloud forest edges in Columbia and Ecuador. It has brown, green, and bronze feathers, but the white markings on its neck stand out. Female throat patches are less noticeable.

The Black Inca (Coeligena prunellei) is a Columbia native that loves humid forests, montane forests, and human landscapes but covers a small flying range. These hummingbirds have an overall blackish-brown body with a white collar patch and an iridescent blue shoulder in the right light.

The Collared Inca (Coeligena torquata) loves to inhabit humid forests in the Andes, western Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru. They stand out through the collar patch on their chest and white tail feathers. They are big hummingbirds that have white tail flashes, dark green bodies, a purple-green iridescent crown, and sometimes rufous chest patches. Females are duller.

The Violet-throated starfrontlet (Coeligena violifer) inhabits areas of Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. This is a big hummingbird with a straight beak, brown body, green head, and an iridescent violet gorget and blue crown. 

The Rainbow starfrontlet (Coeligena iris) is a big hummingbird. It can be mostly found in Ecuador and Peru. These hummingbirds have green breasts, chestnut backs, tails, bellies, and wings. The crown is red in the north and green and blue in the south. Gorges can be purple or blue, and females lack this characteristic.

The White-tailed starfrontlet (Coeligena phalerata) inhabits humid montane forests in Northwestern Colombia (Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta). Males stand out through their white tails and females through their long beaks and tawny underparts.

The Dusky starfrontlet (Coeligena orina) is a western Colombia native, mostly seen in humid and elfin forests and alpine tundras. The male has a white tail and iridescent forehead and gorget. Females have long bills, buffy throats, and iridescent green bellies & rumps.

The Buff-winged starfrontlet (Coeligena lutetiae) can be found in elfin forests, cloudforests, and alpine tundras in Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador. They have green feathers and a buffy wing patch. Males have a purple neck, and females have a buffy neck.

The Golden-bellied starfrontlet (Coeligena bonapartei) inhabits humid montane forests in Colombia and Venezuela. Males are easily identified by their black and green crown, golden belly, and purple patch on the throat. Females have a golden belly and buffy throat with green patches.

The Blue-throated starfrontlet (Coeligena helianthea) enjoys spending time in elfin forests, cloudforests, and slopes in Colombia and Venezuela. Males have a blackish head and breast, green forecrown, a purplish-blue patch on the neck, and a purple and pink belly. Females have buffy necks and pink bellies.


The Mountain velvetbreast (Lafresnaya lafresnayi ) mostly inhabits humid montane forest edges, shrubs, and slopes in Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, and Venezuela. This hummingbird’s decurved beak and whitetail are distinctive. Males have green plumage and a black belly. Females are pale or buffy with green specks.


Sword-billed hummingbird, Ensifera ensifera is a typically non-migratory bird that mostly inhabits Andean areas in South America: West Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, and Bolivia. It loves humid montane forests, gardens, and shrublands. It stands out the most through its long bill (longest of any hummingbird), green body, and bronzy head.


Great sapphirewings (Pterophanes cyanopterus) are huge birds; Males have emerald plumage and blue wings. Females have green backs and cinnamon underparts. They usually inhabit evergreen and elfin forests in Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru.


Buff-tailed coronet, Boissonneaua flavescens – cloudforests, humid and wet montane, elfin forests, open landscapes, shrubs – in Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela. This male hummingbird has mostly green plumage with a buffy underwing & tail and a straight bill. Similar to females.

Chestnut-breasted coronet (Boissonneaua matthewsii) typically inhabits humid mountain forests and gardens in Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador. Male and females resemble each other and have green upper parts and hoods, shorts bills, and chestnut breasts and bellies.

Velvet-purple coronet, Boissonneaua jardini – wet forests and shrubs in Colombia (west) and Ecuador (northwest). Sexes resemble each other. The plumage looks dark in a bad light. They have purple bellies and heads, green wing coverts, turquoise sides, and chestnut underwings in the right light.


Ocreatus subspecies of hummingbirds are also called booted racket-tails. The genus used to be considered monospecific, but that changed.

White-booted racket-tails (Ocreatus underwoodii) inhabit humid and wet forests and secondary forests in Ecuador and Peru. Long tail rackets and white/orange leg puffs make the male stand out. Females are small and have white underparts with varying markings, a small straight beak, and leg puffs.

Peruvian racket-tail, Ocreatus peruanus – humid and wet forests and secondary forests in Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador.

Rufous-booted racket-tail, Ocreatus addae – humid and wet forests and secondary forests in Bolivia and Peru.


The Urochroa subspecies of hummingbirds are typically seen in secondary forests, shrubs, mature forests, and near streams. The name ‘Urochroa’ comes from the Ancient Greek ‘oura‘ which means “tail” and ‘khroa‘ which means “complexion.”

Rufous-gaped hillstar, Urochroa bougueri – Peru, southern Colombia, and Ecuador. This big hummingbird has a bronzy green body and a blue throat. It has a rufous patch on the face and white streaks on the tail.

Green-backed hillstar, Urochroa leucura – northern Peru, southern Colombia, and Ecuador. Resembles the other hillstar, but no rufous patch. Overall bronzy-greenish body, blue throat, and white tail streaks.


Urosticte clade of hummingbirds are also called whitetips because of their appearance (white tips on their recepticles).

The Purple-bibbed whitetip (Urosticte benjamin) is a rare hummingbird found in montane forests in Colombia and Ecuador. Both sexes have a white line behind the eye. The male has a purple neck patch and white inner tail feather tips that create a circular spot. The Female has green and white tail feathers with white tips.

Rufous-vented whitetips (Urosticte ruficrissa) are rare birds that inhabit cloudforests and mountain forests in Peru, Colombia, and Ecuador. The male is green with a black neck and white inner tail feathers that create a circle. Females have green and white scaling, buff on the vent, and a white mustache line.


Velvet-browed brilliant, Heliodoxa xanthogonys – Brazil, Suriname, Guyana, and Venezuela.

Pink-throated brilliant, Heliodoxa gularis – Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru.

Rufous-webbed brilliant, Heliodoxa branickii – Peru native

Black-throated brilliant, Heliodoxa schreibersii – Brazil, Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru

Gould’s jewelfront, Heliodoxa aurescens – unusual distribution; seen at higher elevations in the Andes (Ecuador, Brazil, and Peru); named after ornithologist John Gould (1804–1881).

Fawn-breasted brilliant, Heliodoxa rubinoides – Colombia, Ecuador, the Andes, and Peru

Green-crowned brilliant, Heliodoxa jacula – Colombia, Ecuador, Costa Rica, and Panama

Empress brilliant, Heliodoxa imperatrix – Ecuador and Colombia

Violet-fronted brilliant, Heliodoxa leadbeateri – Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Colombia.


The Brazilian ruby (Clytolaema rubricauda) is a Brazilian native found in forests, parks, scrublands, plantations, and urban areas (gardens).

Small, black-billed hummingbird. Males are green with a scarlet rump and tail, pink throat, and white eye spot. Females have a white teardrop behind the eye and a pale patch on the cheekbones.


McGuire, Jimmy A., Christopher C. Witt, J. V. Remsen Jr, Ammon Corl, Daniel L. Rabosky, Douglas L. Altshuler, and Robert Dudley. “Molecular phylogenetics and the diversification of hummingbirds.” Current Biology 24, no. 8 (2014): 910-916.

Howard & Moore Complete Checklist of the Birds of the World. Vol. 1: Non-passerines (4th ed.). Eastbourne, UK: Aves Press. ISBN 978-0-9568611-0-8 .


Alexandra has a deep love for the natural world. She likes to experience it fully but also loves learning about the science behind it. She has a special relationship with hummingbirds and enjoys witnessing their beauty and grace whenever she’s out.

Recent Posts