Lucifer Hummingbird Life History

Habitat

Habitat ScrubIn the U.S., Lucifer Hummingbirds occur from March to September, mostly in Chihuahuan desert foothills at elevations of about 3,500–5,500 feet. Here they occur in canyons, dry washes, and scrub with agave, ocotillo, cholla, sotol shrubs and cacti. In winter these birds migrate to central Mexico, where they live in similar scrubby habitats or in pine-oak woodland or tropical deciduous forest canyons.Back to top

Food

Food NectarLucifer Hummingbirds eat mainly nectar from agave, penstemon, and a shrub known as anisacanth, as well as paintbrushes, willow, trumpet flower, and cholla. They derive little nectar from ocotillos because of competition with carpenter bees, which pierce the flowers and steal the nectar from the bases. Lucifer Hummingbirds themselves "thieve" nectar from agaves. The plants are adapted to be pollinated by bats; when Lucifer Hummingbirds visit agaves they are too small to pick up pollen from the flower, so they get the nectar without providing a pollination service to the plant. Lucifer Hummingbirds also eat insects and spiders and especially offer these protein-rich foods to their young.Back to top

Nesting

Nest Placement

Nest ShrubFemale Lucifer Hummingbirds build nests on cholla, ocotillo, or lechuguilla plants on steep, dry, rocky slopes. Nests are typically placed 2-10 feet above the ground on the horizontal branch of a cholla, amid ocotillo leaves, or on dead fruiting stalks of lechuguilla. Sometimes built on top of a nest from the previous year.

Nest Description

The female builds the nest over a period of 10 days to 2 weeks, gathering material from about a 330-foot radius and occasionally stealing material from other Lucifer Hummingbird nests. The nest is a cup about 1.8 inches across and 2.2 inches tall. The walls are made of plant fibers including oak catkins, flower down, dried grass, twigs. The outsides are decorated with lichens and small leaves.

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size:2 eggs
Number of Broods:1-2 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:15 days
Nestling Period:22-24 days
Egg Description:Plain white and about 0.5 inch long.
Condition at Hatching:Helpless, unfeathered except for a line of down along the back.
Back to top

Behavior

Behavior HoveringLucifer Hummingbirds have a typical hummingbird flight style—hovering to feed from flowers, darting into the air to catch insects, and zooming in straight lines from place to place. Males defend patches of flowers from males, other females, and intruding Black-chinned Hummingbirds by chattering at and chasing them. Females defend nest sites in a similar manner, including against Scott's Orioles and Loggerhead Shrikes. When females are building nests, male Lucifer Hummingbirds display to them, though they do not actually form pair bonds and are quite likely polygamous. Displays consist of approaching the female, shuttling quickly back and forth in 6-foot-wide horizontal movements in front of her, followed by an ascent to as high as 100 feet and a sudden dive in front of her. During the approach, the wings or tail make a rapid flicking sound; as the male flies away he spreads his forked tail and makes a different wack-wack-wack sound with his tail. The display lasts 30 to 45 seconds and may be given up to 5 times in an hour.Back to top

Conservation

Conservation Restricted RangeLucifer Hummingbirds occur in just a few areas in southern Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, and throughout Mexico. There is little information about population trends. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 200,000 with 100 percent living in Mexico, and 10 percent spending some part of the year in the U.S. The species rates a 14 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. Lucifer Hummingbird is a U.S.-Canada Stewardship species, and is on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List, which lists bird species that are at risk of becoming threatened or endangered without conservation action. Feeders, including those at Big Bend National Park, probably maintain United States populations at higher levels than would occur naturally. Back to top

Credits

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2015.2. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2015.

North American Bird Conservation Initiative. 2014. The State of the Birds 2014 Report. US Department of Interior, Washington, DC, USA.

Partners in Flight. 2017. Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Scott, Peter E. 1994. Lucifer Hummingbird (Calothorax lucifer), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Sibley, David Allen. 2014. The Sibley guide to birds, second edition. Alfred A Knopf, New York.

Back to top