Living Bird Magazine
Broad-tailed HummingbirdSelasphorus platycercus
- ORDER: Caprimulgiformes
- FAMILY: Trochilidae
A jewel of high mountain meadows, male Broad-tailed Hummingbirds fill the summer air with loud, metallic trills as they fly. They breed at elevations up to 10,500 feet, where nighttime temperatures regularly plunge below freezing. To make it through a cold night, they slow their heart rate and drop their body temperature, entering a state of torpor. As soon as the sun comes up, displaying males show off their rose-magenta throats while performing spectacular dives. After attracting a mate, females raise the young on their own.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Look out for Broad-tailed Hummingbirds at feeders. Listen for the male's loud wing trills as he guards territory around a choice feeder spot.
Broad-tailed Hummingbirds spend only a few short months in the United States so you'll need to get to a meadow sometime from late May to early August to catch them. In these areas, stop along forest openings and meadows that are filled with flowers and listen for the loud metallic trill of their wings. Hummingbirds frequently return to one or two favorite perches, so a great way to get good looks is to follow one with your eyes (not binoculars) until it lands on its perch. Visiting a hummingbird feeder in the mountains is also a good way to get good looks at Broad-tailed Hummingbirds.
- Colibrí Coliancho (Spanish)
- Colibri à queue large (French)
If you live within the range of the Broad-tailed 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.
- Cool Facts
- The Broad-tailed Hummingbird enters torpor, a slowed metabolic state, on cold nights. It maintains a body temperature of about 54°F (12.2°C) when ambient temperatures fall below 44°F (10°C).
- Hummingbirds are energetic and aggressive little birds. Breeding male Broad-tailed Hummingbirds dive at and chase away unwelcome visitors to their territories, and the better the territory the more chasing that occurs. In one feeder-rich area a male made over 40 chases per hour in an effort to keep all of the sugar water to himself.
- The Broad-tailed Hummingbird is one tough hummingbird. Even on summer nights, cold air often descends into mountain valleys, dropping temperatures to below freezing. The nesting female copes with these temperature extremes by building a well-insulated nest and entering torpor, but the male often heads upslope, out of the pocket of cold air that collected in the valley. This move can reduce his energy costs of thermoregulation by about 15%.
- Male Broad-tailed Hummingbirds produce a loud trill with their wingtips as they fly, but over time the feathers that produce this sound wear down from use. By midwinter the trill is often inaudible. Before the next breeding season rolls around they grow new feathers and are ready to trill away.
- When males dive down upon females during courtship displays they sometimes pin a female down if she is sitting in low vegetation.
- The longest-lived Broad-tailed Hummingbird was a female, and over 12 years, 2 months old, when she was recaptured and rereleased during a banding operation in Colorado in 1987. She had been banded in the same state in 1976.