Believing that no artist had successfully captured the rich iridescence of hummingbird feathers or butterfly wings found in the tropics, Heade planned to create a series of images that would compete with scientific illustrations of exotic species by John James Audubon and others. He painted these sixteen works as part of a planned group of twenty "Gems of Brazil," so-called for the popular association of hummingbirds with sparkling, precious jewels.
Heade's paintings give a sense of the hummingbird's life cycle. Some of the pairs court, while others tend to eggs or offspring. The backgrounds often feature the mountain scenery of Brazil, where the artist visited in 1863, integrating the birds and butterflies into their natural environment. Heade's attempts to raise money to create a book of prints based on the canvases failed, perhaps because he presented an artistic view of the birds rather than simply portraying them as specimens.