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Broad-tailed Hummingbird

Selasphorus platycercus ORDER: APODIFORMES FAMILY: TROCHILIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

A medium-sized hummingbird of subalpine meadows, the Broad-tailed Hummingbird ranges across the south-central Rockies in summer, with most returning to Mexico and Central America during the colder months. Males make a loud trilling noise with their wingtips and perform spectacular aerial displays that make them hard to miss. To survive the cold nights in their high-elevation habitats, Broad-tailed Hummingbirds can enter torpor, slowing their heart rate, and dropping their body temperature.

At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
3.1–3.5 in
8–9 cm
Wingspan
5.1 in
13 cm
Weight
0.1–0.1 oz
3–4 g
Other Names
  • Colibrie vibrador, Chupamirto cola ancha (Spanish)

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).
  • Breeding males dive and chase intruding males, and the better the territory the more chases occur. A feeder-rich area guarded by a male may result in over 40 chases an hour.
  • In some areas of Broad-tailed Hummingbird breeding habitat, cold air descends into valleys at night, with warmer areas upslope. This phenomenon is called a thermal inversion. The male Broad-tailed Hummingbird, which does not attend the nest, goes upslope at night to conserve heat, reducing the energy costs of thermoregulation by about 15 percent.
  • When males dive down upon females during courtship displays they sometimes pin a female down if she is sitting in low vegetation.
  • The loud trill made by male hummingbirds is produced by their wingtips and is especially loud during courtship or aggressive territorial displays. It can be heard up to 250 feet (75 meters) away. The louder the trill, the more aggressive the territory owner. As feathers wear down, the trill becomes muted and is often inaudible by midwinter.
  • 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.

Habitat


Open Woodland

Broad-tailed Hummingbirds can be found in high elevations of the southern and central Rocky Mountains (into Mexico) and Sierra Nevada. They live in open woodland, especially pinyon-juniper, pine-oak, and montane scrub and thickets. In migration and winter you may also see them in open parts of lowlands around flowering shrubs. In the cold climate of their northernmost range, temperatures may drop below freezing even in the summer.

Food


Nectar

Broad-tailed Hummingbirds drink nectar from flowers, especially from red, tubular species such as red columbine, indian paintbrush, sage, and scarlet mint. During spring migration, these birds also feed from flowers that are not typically used by other hummingbirds, including pussy willow, currant, and glacier lilies. They eat small insects, gleaning them from leaves and snatching them from midair. Sometimes they use sap as a nectar substitute, visiting sapwells excavated by Red-naped Sapsuckers.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
2 eggs
Number of Broods
1 broods
Egg Length
0.5–0.6 in
1.2–1.5 cm
Egg Width
0.3–0.4 in
0.8–1 cm
Incubation Period
16–19 days
Nestling Period
21–26 days
Condition at Hatching
Helpless and naked.
Nest Description

Females build and tend the nests alone. The nest construction helps to conserve heat in the cold of high altitudes. They are well insulated and often placed under overhanging branches, keeping the nest warmer than surrounding areas, and reducing nighttime energy requirements of the incubating female. Construction takes 4–5 days, less if built upon a previous nest.

Nest Placement

Tree

Females make a thick inner cup out of spiderweb and gossamer, and camouflage the outside with lichens, moss, and bark fragments. Material may be stolen from other nests and is frequently added during incubation, with the nest sometimes becoming taller over time. When the nest is finished it has an outer diameter of 2 inches and a 0.8-inch inside diameter, but it stretches as the chicks grow until the cup is flattened into a platform shape.

Behavior


Hovering

When hovering, Broad-tailed Hummingbirds beat their wings at about 50 wingbeats per second. When the nights are cold, it is not uncommon for these birds, including incubating females, to go into a hypothermic torpor. Broad-tailed Hummingbirds are promiscuous, often mating with several individuals in a season. They do not form pair bonds. During courtship male Broad-tailed Hummingbirds perform spectacular aerial displays around the females, involving a series of climbs, dives, and hovering, while loudly trilling their wings. If a male loses sight of a female, he will climb high and hover, scanning the ground with side-to-side movements, looking for her. Males are aggressively territorial and will hover overhead looking for intruding males and then dive toward unwelcome visitors, often giving chase, whistling and trilling their wings. Birds of both sexes vocalize when competing for territory.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Broad-tailed Hummingbirds are numerous and fairly common, but their numbers declined by over 1.5% per year between 1966 and 2014, resulting in a cumulative decline of 55%, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 10 million birds, with 57% breeding in the U.S. and 98% spending all or part of the year in Mexico. They rate a 10 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and are not on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List.. Long, cold winters can cause declines in Broad-tailed Hummingbird populations. The popularity of hummingbird feeders may have allowed Broad-tailed Hummingbird numbers to increase around towns and settlements. Window strikes, collisions with cars, and electric fences are threats to Broad-tailed Hummingbirds.

Credits

Range Map Help

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

Migration

Resident to medium distant migrant. Long thought to winter only in Mexico, but a handful are now found on the U.S. Gulf coast during the colder months, possibly being sustained by the proliferation of feeders and exotic plantings.

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.

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

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