The Violet-tailed Sylph is a spectacular hummingbird with a blue and violet tail that could compete with the brightest of neon lights. At least, the male of the species sports this brilliant, split tail. The female is slightly more sedate but a beautiful bird in her own right. To learn more about where to see this stunning bird, read on!

The Violet-tail Sylph in Ecuador

Not to be mistaken for its similar looking cousin, the Long-tailed Sylph (Aglaiocercus kingi), the Violet-tailed Sylph (Aglaiocercus coelestis) is found on the West Slope of the Ecuadorian Andes. The Long-tailed Sylph is generally found on the East Slope and at different elevations. Also, where the tail feathers overlap, the Long-tailed Sylph shows more greenish-blue coloring. Note the difference in the following two photos.

Long-tailed Sylph, Cabañas de San Isidro, Cosanga, Ecuador | ©Angela Drake
Violet-tailed Sylph, The Birdwatcher's House, Santa Rosa de Mindo, Ecuador | ©Angela Drake

According to Cornell University’s Neotropical Birds, the Violet-tail Sylph is most easily seen about 1000 meters, or 3200 feet, in altitude. While it does not exactly migrate, it can be found at slightly different elevations throughout the year based on the flowering of native plants.

We have had good luck to observe this flashy hummingbird in both the Tandayapa Valley and in two different birding hotspots of Mindo.

The Violet-Tailed Sylph in Tandayapa

The lodges in the Tandayapa Valley can have good luck attracting the Violet-tailed Sylph, especially when flowering plants are sparse in the native cloud forests. In fact, this was one of the first birds we tried to photograph after arriving in Ecuador. We stayed at the Bellavista Ecolodge where this bird flitted in and out of the bird feeders lowest to the ground. It loved to perch on the long, sturdy leaves of a low growing bromeliad.

My First Violet-tailed Sylph Photo at Bellavista Lodge, Ecuador | ©Angela Drake

The San Jorge de Tandayapa Ecolodge also attracts this bird. We have spent many a meal in the outdoor dining room enjoying the neon-flashes of blue and green. In fact, I rarely sat throughout an entire breakfast without diving for my camera! Mid-mornings and late afternoons seemed to provide the best natural light for photos.

Our best luck seeing the male of this species at the hummingbird feeders at these lodges has been in January, after the heavy rains have started and before native flowers are heavily in bloom.

The Violet-tailed Sylph (Aglaicercus coelestis), San Jorge de Tandayapa, Ecuador | ©Angela Drake
The Violet-tailed Sylph (Aglaicercus coelestis), San Jorge de Tandayapa, Ecuador | ©Angela Drake
The Violet-tailed Sylph (Aglaicercus coelestis), San Jorge de Tandayapa, Ecuador | ©Angela Drake

The Violet-Tailed Sylph in Mindo

The best luck we have had seeing the female of the species was at the Angel Paz Reserve, outside of Mindo, Ecuador. On our visit in July, we repeatedly saw a female come to the feeders near the outdoor dining room.

However, the absolute best place to photograph the Violet-tailed Sylph has been at the Birdwatcher’s House in Santa Rosa de Mindo. This lodge is at a lower elevation. On our last visit in November, we saw at least three or four different males flocking to the feeders. There may have been more but without measuring the lengths of their tails, it an be hard to tell the difference between individuals. It is worth noting that longer tailed individuals are more mature males while shorter tailed are likely adolescents.

Violet-tailed Sylph, San Jorge de Tandapaya, Ecuador | ©Angela Drake
Violet-tailed Sylph, Birdwatcher's House, Santa Rosa de Mindo, Ecuador | ©Angela Drake
Violet-tailed Sylph, San Jorge de Tandapaya, Ecuador | ©Angela Drake
Violet-tailed Sylph, Birdwatcher's House, Santa Rosa de Mindo, Ecuador | ©Angela Drake

Because of the set-up of the feeders at the Birdwatcher’s House, photographing these amazing birds was probably the easiest I have ever encountered. While I still did not manage to freeze them in flight, I was able to take pictures that truly showed the neon-like shine of both tail feathers and the mohawk  of shiny green.

Other Locations to See the Violet-tailed Sylph

If you know of other places to see this marvelous bird, please let us know! We would love to share your experience photographing and observing this lovely species.