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Allen's Hummingbird

Selasphorus sasin ORDER: CAPRIMULGIFORMES FAMILY: TROCHILIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

In early spring, a narrow strip of scrub and chaparral along the Pacific Coast starts buzzing with the sights and sounds of the coppery and green Allen's Hummingbird. Males flash their brilliant reddish orange throat and put on an elaborate show for the females, swinging in pendulous arcs before climbing high into the sky and diving back down with a sharp squeal made by their tails. These early migrants mostly spend the winter in Mexico, but some stay in southern California year-round.

At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
3.5 in
9 cm
Wingspan
4.3 in
11 cm
Weight
0.1–0.1 oz
2–4 g
Relative Size
Larger than a Calliope Hummingbird, slightly smaller than an Anna's Hummingbird.
Other Names
  • Colibri d'Allen (French)
  • Chuparmirto petirrojo, Zumbador de Allen (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • Male and female Allen's Hummingbirds use different habitats during the breeding season. The male sets up a territory overseeing open areas of coastal scrub or chaparral, where he perches conspicuously on exposed branches. The female visits these areas, but after mating she heads into thickets or forests to build a nest and raise the young.
  • Allen's Hummingbirds breed in a narrow strip of habitat along coastal Oregon and California. But within their tiny range two subspecies occur. One (Selasphorus sasin sasin) migrates to a small area in Mexico for the winter while the other (S. s. sedentarius) stays put in southern California year-round.
  • The Allen's Hummingbird is a remarkably early migrant compared with most North American birds. Northbound birds may depart their wintering grounds as early as December, arriving on their breeding grounds as early as January when winter rains produce an abundance of flowers.
  • Like other birds, Allen's Hummingbirds use their feet to help control their body temperature. When it's cold outside they tuck their feet up against their bellies while flying, but when temperatures soar, they let their feet dangle to cool down.
  • The oldest recorded Allen's Hummingbird was at least 5 years 11 months old when she was captured and rereleased in California during banding operations i 2009. She had been banded in the same state in 2004.

Habitat


Open Woodland

Allen's Hummingbirds breed in a narrow strip of coastal forest, scrub, and chaparral from sea level to around 1,000 feet elevation along the West Coast. Males tend to hold territories in more open areas while females nest in areas with tree cover including eucalyptus, redwood, and Douglas-fir. On the wintering grounds in Mexico, they use oak-pine forest, edges, and scrubby clearings with abundant flowers.

Food


Nectar

Allen's Hummingbirds sip nectar from flowers such as bush monkeyflower, Indian paintbrush, columbine, currant, gooseberry, twinflower, penstemon, ceanothus, sage, eucalyptus, and manzanita. They get their protein by capturing small insects in midair or picking them off plants.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
2 eggs
Number of Broods
1-3 broods
Egg Length
0.5–0.6 in
1.2–1.4 cm
Egg Width
0.3–0.4 in
0.8–1 cm
Incubation Period
17–22 days
Nestling Period
22–25 days
Egg Description
White.
Condition at Hatching
Helpless, with dark skin and some white down along the back.
Nest Description

Female Allen's Hummingbirds gather spiderweb and downy material from willows and flowers in the sunflower family to form the base and inner part of the nest. She sticks the downy fibers together with spiderwebs and uses her body to shape the inside of the cup. She weaves small pieces of grass and leaves to form a thin outer layer and camouflages the outside with pieces of lichen and moss. It takes her 7–13 days to build a nest that is about 1.25 inches across on the inside. Females frequently build new nests on top of old ones or steal material from old nests to build a new one in a different location.

Nest Placement

Shrub

Females nest in trees or shrubs anywhere from 2–50 feet above the ground. They frequently build their nests near shady streams in blackberry, bracken fern, eucalyptus, cypress, or Douglas-fir.

Behavior


Hovering

Allen's Hummingbirds sip nectar, take small insects in midair, and pick small spiders off vegetation. Males and females defend feeding territories on both the breeding and wintering grounds, chasing away any hummingbird that dares to feed at its nectar sources, though they are not as aggressive as Rufous Hummingbirds. During the breeding season, males also defend patches of coastal scrub with prominent perches where they perform their courtship displays. These elaborate flights are mainly aimed at enticing females to mate, but sometimes displays are used to threaten other species. They have two main displays: a side-to-side shuttle and a pendulum. In the shuttle, they fly short distances side to side in front of a female with their gorget flared out while trilling their wings. In the pendulum display, males zip back and forth in wide arcs producing a stuttering bumblebee-like sound. After the pendulum display, males fly up to 100 feet into the air. On their return they emit a sharp trill with their tail, pulling out of the dive right in front of the female. After the dive they swoop back into the pendulum display followed by another dive. Males perform these elaborate displays for multiple females, but that's their only contribution to parenting. Males mate with more than one female and leave them to raise the young on their own.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Allen's Hummingbirds are fairly common, but their populations declined by 83% between 1970 and 2014, according to Partners in Flight. It is a Yellow Watch List species with a declining population, and a Continental Concern Score of 16 out of 20. Partners in Flight estimates that if current rates of decline continue, Allen’s Hummingbirds will lose another half of their remaining population within the next 17 years. The estimated global breeding population is 1.7 million, all of which breed in the U.S., with 96% wintering in Mexico. Allen's Hummingbirds may not be as adapted to urban environments as other species of hummingbirds and their coastal habitats continue to be under intense development pressure. However, hummingbird feeders, eucalyptus, and other nonnative plants may provide additional nectar resources that could partially offset these problems.

Credits

Range Map Help

Allen
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Migration

Resident to medium-distance migrant. Individuals breeding along the coast from southern Oregon to southern California fly to central Mexico for the winter, but hummingbirds breeding on the Channel Islands and around Los Angeles are primarily year-round residents.

Backyard Tips

If you live within the range of the Allen’s Hummingbird, putting up a sugar water feeder may give you an opportunity to watch one in your yard. Use a ratio of one-part table sugar dissolved in four parts water, and don’t use food coloring. Learn more about feeding hummingbirds.

Adding flowers to your yard is another way to attract hummingbirds while also adding beauty to your yard. Learn more about creating a hummingbird garden at Habitat Network.

Find This Bird

When the earliest signs of spring are just starting to show up along the West Coast, it's time to look for Allen's Hummingbirds. They arrive in coastal scrub and chaparral as early as January and start displaying shortly thereafter, which makes them easier to find. Check the tops of shrubs for a male surveying his territory, or listen for the bumblebee sounds and sharp squeals of his display flight. Checking out hummingbird feeders, especially during migration, is another good way to spot an Allen's Hummingbird.

Get Involved

Join Project FeederWatch and help us learn more about Allen's Hummingbirds that visit your feeders. Learn more and sign up at Project FeederWatch.

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