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Costa's Hummingbird

Calypte costae ORDER: CAPRIMULGIFORMES FAMILY: TROCHILIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Bright purple feathers drape across the throat of male Costa's Hummingbirds, sticking out wildly to each side, like an overgrown mustache. Males show off their purple colors for females, which are dressed in green with a pale eyebrow and a whitish belly. The male loops around her and dives in broad U-shaped patterns while give a high-pithced whistle. These hummingbirds are at home in the baking heat of the Sonoran and Mojave Deserts as well as in the cooler air of coastal scrub.

At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
3.5 in
9 cm
Wingspan
4.3 in
11 cm
Weight
0.1–0.1 oz
2–3 g
Relative Size
Larger than a Calliope Hummingbird, smaller than an Anna's Hummingbird.
Other Names
  • Colibri de Costa (French)
  • Colibrí de Costa (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • Hummingbirds take nectar from a lot of flowers: researchers calculated that a Costa's Hummingbird needs to visit 1,840 flowers to meet its energy requirements for one day.
  • Jules Bourcier, a French naturalist and hummingbird expert named the Costa's Hummingbird after his friend Louis Marie Pantaleon Costa de Beauregar. Costa was a Sardinian patriot, statesman, military commander, historian, and amateur archaeologist who was also fond of collecting hummingbirds. He was born in 1806 and died in 1864.
  • Despite being normally restricted to the Southwest, Costa's Hummingbirds have shown up several times in the Pacific Northwest and have even ventured as far as Alaska and British Columbia, Canada.
  • Researchers found that Costa's Hummingbirds can enter a torpid state, with slowed heart rates and reduced body temperatures, when nighttime temperatures are low. The hearts of torpid Costa's Hummingbirds beat about 50 times per minute, while those of awake, resting Costa's Hummingbirds beat 500 to 900 times per minute.
  • The oldest recorded Costa's Hummingbird was a female, and at least 8 years, 9 months old when she was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in California in 2009, the same state where she had been banded in 2001.

Habitat


Deserts

Costa's Hummingbirds occur in Sonoran and Mojave Desert scrub, coastal California chaparral and sage scrub, and deciduous forest and desert scrub in Baja California, Mexico. In the Sonoran Desert they occur in desert washes with palo verde, jojoba, desert lavender, or chuparosa, on steep rock slopes, and in lowlands with saguaro, creosote bush, and cholla cacti typically below 3,000 feet elevation. In the Mojave Desert they frequent scrub and woodlands near springs and streams with cottonwoods, brittlebrush, four-winged saltbush, and other species from near sea level to 4,000 feet elevation. Along the California coast they use sage scrub and chaparral. Along the Baja peninsula they use desert scrub and deciduous forests with cardon cacti, elephant tree, Adam's tree, and tree morning-glory.

Food


Nectar

Costa's Hummingbirds feed on nectar and small flying insects. In the Sonoran Desert, they visit at least 22 different plant species, but feed most frequently on chuparosa and ocotillo. In California coastal scrub they frequently feed at white and black sage, tree tobacco, heart-leaved penstemon, and bush monkeyflower, among others.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
2 eggs
Number of Broods
1-2 broods
Egg Length
0.4–0.6 in
1.1–1.4 cm
Egg Width
0.3–0.4 in
0.8–0.9 cm
Incubation Period
15–18 days
Nestling Period
20–30 days
Egg Description
White.
Condition at Hatching
Naked and helpless with dark skin.
Nest Description

Females collect strips of bark, small leaves, bits of lichen, and downy parts from flowers in the sunflower family. She loosely weaves all of these materials together with spiderweb to form a rather flimsy cup-shaped nest. It takes her about 4–5 days to complete a nest. The outside of the nest measures around 1.25 inches and is about 1 inch deep. Females occasionally build a new nest on top of one from a previous season.

Nest Placement

Shrub

Female Costa's Hummingbirds typically build a nest 3–7 feet above the ground in palo verde, ironwood, cholla, acacia, graythorn, and other shrubs. She frequently places the nest in relatively open areas without much vegetation cover.

Behavior


Hovering

Costa's Hummingbirds hover above flowers to take nectar and catch small flying insects in midair. Males defend territories during the breeding season around prominent perches and nectar sources. They pick 3–4 favorite perches within their territory, usually a dead twig in a palo verde, acacia, or ironwood, and sing a thin high-pitched whistle to proclaim ownership and keep intruders out. Males perform a looping dive display to entice females to mate with them and also to threaten intruding hummingbirds. They fly straight towards the female, make several loops around her and then fly straight up into the air, returning in a broad U-shaped dive. During the dive they sing a high-pitched whistle. They continue to loop around and perform dives for the female without pause, sometimes for up to 4 minutes, but usually the display lasts for about 35 seconds. If that was not enough to attract the female’s attention, they also hover directly in front of her with their gorget flared. Males typically mate with more than one female and do not help care for the young. Birds breeding in the Sonoran Desert leave the area in the summer and fall, heading towards the coast and areas with abundant flowers. Males and females defend patches of flowers during the nonbreeding season, but they often move around to take advantage of blooming plants. Although they defend nectar sources they are not as aggressive and are subordinate to larger hummingbirds.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Costa's Hummingbirds are relatively common, but their populations declined by around 1% per year between 1968 and 2015 according to the Breeding Bird Survey, and experienced a 51% decline since 1970, according to Partners in Flight. Partners in Flight estimates that the global breeding population is 3.4 million with 48% spending some part of the year in the U.S., and 71% in Mexico. They have a Continental Concern Score of 13 out of 20, which means they are not on the Watch List. Clearing of desert scrub for development and grazing is their biggest threat.

Credits

Range Map Help

Costa
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Migration

Resident to short-distance migrant.

Backyard Tips

Putting up a sugar water feeder may give you an opportunity to watch a Costa's Hummingbird up close. 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

Finding a Costa's Hummingbird means taking a trip to the Southwest. To catch them in the Sonoran and Mojave Deserts you'll want to be there sometime from February to May, though they tend to stick around until June in the Mojave. Look for flowering ocotillo and chuparosa and listen for the high-pitched whistle of the male. The peak time to see them along coastal California is in May. Here you'll want to look for flowering sage and other shrubs. If you live in the Costa’s range, try putting out more than one hummingbird feeder in your yard. Place one of them off to the side to allow the shyer Costa's Hummingbird a chance to feed alongside larger or more aggressive species.

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