About the Fiery Topaz
The male Fiery Topaz shines like a jewel as it zips around the canopy of lowland South American forests. This stunning large hummingbird — at 7.5” long, about the size of a Long-tailed Sylph — has a lime-green gorget (throat patch) set off by an extensive coal-black hood and shimmering coppery-orange body plumage. The male also sports a long pair of central rectrices (tail feathers) that cross each other in an X. The more understated female lacks the long tail feathers and is green with a rusty-yellow gorget and undertail feathers of turquoise and green.
The Fiery Topaz was once considered to be the same species as its close relative, the almost-identical Crimson Topaz. However, additional scientific study revealed clear differences between the two. Aside from subtle physical differences, the Fiery Topaz has a more northwesterly distribution than the Crimson Topaz, and the two species' ranges, bisected by the Amazon River, do not overlap.
A sharp-eyed birder's observations in the field led to a scientific paper on additional differences within the newly-described species, which led to a further division into two subspecies.
The Fiery Topaz is now divided into two subspecies based on the color of the feathering on its legs. The nominate subspecies (pyra) has white leg feathering, while the more recently described subspecies (amaruni) has black leg feathers, stippled with white tips. Additional differences between two subspecies may come to light with more research.
Songs and Sounds
The Fiery Topaz vocalizes in a series of high-pitched chirps and chatters. Territorial males are particularly noisy as they contend for prime feeding spots.
Group of three males:
Breeding and Feeding
Fiery Display Flights
Little is known about Fiery Topaz breeding behavior, but scientists surmise that multiple males gather in close proximity at specific location, known as a lek, where they display for visiting females. Males of the closely-related Crimson Topaz, as well as other birds ranging from the Andean Cock-of-the-Rock to the Club-winged Manakin, show this competitive behavior. Fiery Topaz males usually stage their display flights near or over a slow-running jungle stream, where they flaunt their leg feathers in hopes of winning female attention.
Once she mates, the female Fiery Topaz leaves the lek to raise a family on her own. She builds a long, sock-shaped nest of soft brown fibers and cobweb, where she lays two eggs, broods, and raises her young.
The Fiery Topaz feeds on nectar at flowering trees high in the forest canopy, making this stunning species easy to overlook. Males establish feeding territories in rich patches of flowers, which they fiercely protect against intruders. They may also hawk insects in mid-air over the treetops, as well as low over the water in the manner of a flycatcher or swallow.
Region and Range
This lovely jewel of a bird is found in lowland rainforests of Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Brazil, and Venezuela. The Fiery Topaz is mostly non-migratory, but like the Sword-billed Hummingbird, may make seasonal movements according to the flowering schedule of their preferred plants.
Help support ABC's conservation mission!
Although the Fiery Topaz is widespread and is not considered to be in immediate danger. In fact, recently, recent sightings have extended its known range. However, it remains vulnerable to habitat loss, especially as large swathes of the Amazon continue to be logged and burned.
Many of the rarest bird species in the Western Hemisphere remain relatively unknown. You can learn more about these birds and the threats they face by signing up for ABC's Bird of the Week email series, which frequently highlights these fascinating birds.American Bird Conservancy and our partners throughout Latin America and the Caribbean have created and expanded more than 100 bird reserves, which protect upward of 1.1 million acres of vital habitat. Together, we've planted more than 6.8 million trees, helping to restore degraded and damaged habitat. You can help us continue to protect endangered birds by making a gift today.