Penelope Wilson
Penelope Wilson
September 30, 2020 ·  3 min read

Photographer Captures Incredible Images of Hummingbird’s Wings Gleaming like Rainbows

On the outside, the black Jacobin hummingbird (Florisuga fusca) looks just like a stunning little piece of art with a gleaming black shade. The wing tails are a sweet white color and you may find hints of green on the sides and backs of its wings.

Wait until it flies directly through sun rays. Then you’ll understand why nature is the smartest creator we’ll ever know.

Over a decade ago, Australian-born artist and photographer, Christian Spencer was looking out from his verandah in Rio De Janerio, Brazil when he spotted a black Jacobin hummingbird reflecting stunning rainbows through its wings as it flew through the sun. [1] He wasn’t hallucinating and the weather conditions that day were just normal. The amazing phenomenon was caused by diffraction of the sun’s rays by the hummingbird’s wings, which momentarily acted as a prism. 

Spencer later made a recording of several tiny hummingbirds reflecting beautiful rainbows in slow motion, and he featured the clips in his 2011 documentary titled The Dance of Time”. Winning over 10 awards since its release, the documentary reveals the incredible biodiversity of species thriving in Brazil’s forests, featuring “rare species such as the complete dance of the blue manikin, wooly spider monkeys, Royal Atlantic Flycatcher, Frilled Coquette Hummingbird, Trapdoor spiders and 5 species of serpents.”

The 1-minute trailer video only showed the black Jacobin hummingbirds dancing in the sun and projecting the most beautiful rainbows ever seen in winged creatures.

The winged prism

After his documentary was such a huge success in 2011, Spencer decided to capture some high-resolution photos of the phenomenon caused by the little birds’ wings. He photographed the birds in several positions and motions and formed an astonishing collection of images. Titled Winged Prism, only one image from the collection was made available for printing and sale on his website. About the phenomenon, Spencer wrote: “The photo ‘WINGED PRISM’ by Christian Spencer won the Prize of Fundação Casa da Cultura Macedo Miranda no 44º Salão da Primavera at the Museum of Modern Art in Resende RJ Brazil. The photo captures the exact moment in which the sunlight penetrates the wings of a Black and white Jacobin hummingbird revealing a secret of nature that cannot be seen with our eyes.”

The black Jacobin is a species of hummingbirds from the family, Trochilidae. They are native to South America and can be found in the Atlantic Forest of eastern Brazil, Uruguay, eastern Paraguay, and far north-eastern Argentina. [2]

The black Jacobin is not only special for its prism-like abilities, but also because it’s currently the highest-vocalizing bird in nature. They can produce sounds at a pitch higher than any other birds, and scientists are still unsure as to why these tiny birds can sing so loudly. According to a study published in the journal Current Biology, “black Jacobins either have an atypically high-frequency hearing range, or alternatively their primary vocalization has a yet unknown function unrelated to vocal communication.”

A truly striking sight

Of course, a few people were convinced that Spencer’s images had been digitally altered to reflect rainbows. However, speaking to My Modern Met, he explains that the images were completely natural and had just been timed correctly. [3]

There is no special technique,” he said, “just diffraction of light through the wings of this special hummingbird.” 

Spencer’s photos have touched so many people in different ways. “Nobody ever could have ever dreamed that this was a reality,” he says. “I receive emails every day from people across the world touched by these images.”

His followers on Instagram still can’t get enough of the beautiful shots. 

One wrote: “Love this beautiful little creature thank you for sharing your magic with the rest of the world and making Facebook and Instagram worth watching.”

Another wrote: “The MOST spectacular photo I’ve ever seen what an absolute privilege to witness just breathtaking.”

It’s truly amazing how one picture of a tiny bird could bring so much joy and happiness to millions of people. 

Photos courtesy of Christian Spencer.


  1. 9 Magical Pictures Of Hummingbirds’ Wings Shining Like Rainbows.” Bored Panda. Li. Retrieved September 24, 2020.
  2. Black Jacobin.” eBird. Retrieved September 24, 2020.
  3. Natural Phenomenon Transforms Hummingbird’s Wings into Tiny Rainbows.My Modern Met. Sara Barnes. Retrieved September 24, 2020.
  4. Black Jacobin hummingbirds vocalize above the known hearing range of birds.Pubmed. Olson et al. Retrieved September 24, 2020.