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Broad-tailed Hummingbird

Selasphorus platycercus ORDER: CAPRIMULGIFORMES FAMILY: TROCHILIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

A jewel of high mountain meadows, male Broad-tailed Hummingbirds fill the summer air with a 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.

Keys to identification Help

Hummingbirds
Hummingbirds
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, though tiny, are medium-sized for a North American hummingbird. They have a slender body, a big head, and a long straight bill. Its tail is relatively long for a hummingbird, extending beyond the wingtips when perched.

  • Color Pattern

    The Broad-tailed Hummingbird is iridescent green above with greenish or buffy flanks and a white chest and line down the belly. Adult males have a rose-magenta throat patch (gorget). Females and juveniles have green spots on their throats and cheeks and a pale eyering. When they spread their tail in flight, they flash white tail tips.

  • Behavior

    Broad-tailed Hummingbirds zips from flower to flower, hovering above flowers to drink nectar. When males are zipping around they make a loud metallic-sounding trill with their wings. Males also perform aerial displays, flying high into the sky and rapidly diving towards the ground making a shrill metallic trill with their wings.

  • Habitat

    Broad-tailed Hummingbirds breed in high-elevation meadows, shrubby habitats near pine-oak and evergreen forests, and forest openings within pinyon-juniper, oak woodlands, and evergreen forests in the western United States.

Range Map Help

Broad-tailed Hummingbird Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult male

    Broad-tailed Hummingbird

    Adult male
    • Straight bill
    • Tail extends beyond wingtips
    • Rose-magenta gorget
    • Greenish flanks
    • © MMEastman, Davis Mountains, Texas, July 2013
  • Adult male

    Broad-tailed Hummingbird

    Adult male
    • Straight bill
    • Rose-magenta gorget
    • Iridescent green above
    • Greenish to buffy flanks
    • © MMEastman, Davis Mountains, Texas, September 2013
  • Female/Immature

    Broad-tailed Hummingbird

    Female/Immature
    • Straight bill
    • Tail extends beyond wingtips
    • Green spots on throat and cheeks
    • Buffy flanks
    • © Lindell Dillon, Chimney Rock Mountain, New Mexico, September 2013
  • Female/Immature

    Broad-tailed Hummingbird

    Female/Immature
    • Straight bill
    • Green spots on throat and cheeks
    • Buffy flanks
    • © David Stephens, Centennial, Colorado, August 2012

Similar Species

Similar Species

Female and juvenile hummingbirds can be extremely difficult to identify. Female Allen's and Rufous Hummingbirds are slightly smaller than female Broad-tailed Hummingbirds and they have shorter tails. Female and juvenile Anna's Hummingbirds have a white arc over the eye that extends down the side of the face, instead of the pale eyering on female Broad-tailed Hummingbirds. Anna's Hummingbirds also tend to have dingier breasts than Broad-tailed Hummingbirds. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds occur in the East and generally do not overlap with Broad-tailed Hummingbirds. But in areas in Texas where they could overlap during migration, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have a blackish or dark gray ear patch not seen on Broad-tailed Hummingbirds.

Backyard Tips

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.

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.

You Might Also Like

Not all sweetness and light: the real diet of hummingbirds, Living Bird, Autumn 2010.

Western hummingbirds in the East–set your feeders out!!: keep your feeders up in the fall for a chance at rare hummingbirds, eBird, November 9, 2012.

When do you see more hummingbirds at your feeders?, Project FeederWatch, June 6, 2014.

Here’s What to Feed Your Summer Bird Feeder Visitors, All About Birds, July 11, 2014.

Annual Changes In Hummingbird Migration Revealed By Birders’ Sightings, All About Birds, March 25, 2015.

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