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10 Broad-tailed Hummingbird Facts

Broad-tailed hummingbirds are a beautiful species that spends spring and summer in mountain meadows of the western United States. Males magenta throat is a much easier identifier for the casual observer than their namesake broad tail.  In this article we will look at ten Broad-tailed hummingbird facts, including their habitat and favorite foods.

10 Broad-tailed Hummingbird Facts

1. Broad-tailed hummingbirds have high metabolisms

Broad-tailed hummingbird on it’s feeder
Broad-tailed hummingbird on it’s feeder | image by Larry Lamsa via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Like all hummingbirds, broad-tailed hummingbirds have incredibly high metabolisms. This means they need to feed often to maintain their energy levels. As such, these birds feed up to eight times an hour and consume more than their own body weight in food each day.

2. Broad-tailed hummingbirds consume nectar and insects

These birds primarily feed on nectar from flowers, but they will also eat insects for protein. They use their long, thin bills to access nectar from deep within the flower, and their tongues are specially adapted to lap up the liquid with amazing speed and efficiency.

Indian paintbrush, sage, red columbine and larkspur are just a few of the Broad-tailed hummingbirds favorite nectar flowers. During their migration, they have also been observed eating from flowers that most other hummingbirds ignore, such as pussy willow and glacier lily.

Watching the broad-tailed hummingbirds flit from flower to flower when feeding is an amazing sight to behold. They take as little time as possible when feeding and will often spend no more than five seconds at a flower before moving on to the next one. They will also readily visit backyard nectar feeders in their range.

3. Broad-tailed hummingbirds are migratory birds

Broad-tailed hummingbird on flight
Broad-tailed hummingbird on flight | image by Larry Lamsa via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

The broad-tailed hummingbird is a migratory species and will travel long distances in search of food and better breeding grounds. They spend the winter in Mexico, then in spring travel into the western U.S. to spend the summer breeding season.

This is an incredible feat, considering their small size and the journey they undertake each year. These birds save tremendous amounts of energy as fat for the long migration, and they often double their body weight in preparation for the journey.

4. They prefer to live in elevated areas

Broad-tailed hummingbird
Broad-tailed hummingbird | image credit: DickDaniels | CC 3.0

Broad-tailed hummingbirds prefer higher altitude (5,000 – 10,500 feet) meadows and open woodland habitats with plenty of flowers and trees to feed on. They travel between higher and lower altitude meadows, following the blooming flowers. In this more mountainous habitat, very cold air can settle down into the valleys even during the summer, dropping overnight temperatures close to or below freezing. 

To deal with this, females that need to stay with the nest can enter an energy-saving state of deep sleep called torpor. This slows their metabolism and enables them to get through the night without running out of energy trying to warm their body. Males, who don’t help with nesting, typically will move further upslope to spend the night above the cold air pocket. 

5. Broad-tailed hummingbirds are territorial

These birds are quite aggressive and will chase off or fight with other hummingbirds if they feel their territories have been invaded. They are especially territorial during the nesting season. It has been observed that the more food-rich sources that are available within their territory, the more energy they will expending trying to chase others away. They don’t like to share their sugar! 

6. Females are responsible for the nest building

Female broad-tailed hummingbird on it’s nest
Female broad-tailed hummingbird on it’s nest | image by Bettina Arrigoni via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY 2.0

Female Broad-tailed hummingbirds build nests from moss, lichen, and spider webs. The female will spend up to five days constructing the nest before laying her eggs in it. She will then incubate them until they hatch, usually after around two weeks.

These birds are excellent architects, and their nests are impressively sturdy and secure. They are also notoriously difficult to locate, as the females are careful to ensure the nests blend in with their surroundings.

Broad-tailed hummingbirds line their nests with soft down feathers to keep the eggs and young chicks warm. The nests are designed to expand as the chicks grow and can easily accommodate two fledglings. She has to handle all this on her own, as males do not help with nest building, incubation or rearing the young.

7. Males perform courtship displays and their feathers produce sound

Males of this species are known to put on breathtakingly complex and beautiful courtship displays to attract females. These can include a wide range of aerial acrobatics such as looping, diving, and hovering while showing off their throat colors.

During the breeding season, the feathers on the males wing-tips produced a trilling sound when they fly. It is a high, metallic sound that somewhat resembles a cricket chirp. These feathers slowly wear out as the season goes on, and by winter they no longer make the trilling sound. They will molt and grow new “noisy” feathers again in time for the next breeding season.

8. Female broad-tailed hummingbirds lay two eggs

Females usually lay two eggs at a time, which are white and unmarked. The female will stay with the nest and incubate her eggs until they hatch, usually after around two weeks.

Like other hummingbird species, the female will continue to care for her chicks until they are old enough to leave the nest. Hatchlings are altricial, meaning they are born blind and helpless and rely completely on their mother for warmth and nourishment.

The female will continue to feed them until they become independent enough to find food on their own. This hummingbird species is incredibly dedicated to its young, and the chicks often stay with their mother for several weeks after she has taught them how to forage for food.

9. Broad-tailed hummingbird males leave shortly after mating

Once copulation is complete, males of this species tend to leave and will not stay with the female and her chicks. They will then look for other mates to further multiply the species.

This is actually quite typical of hummingbird species and helps ensure that a wide range of genes gets passed on from generation to generation. The male broad-tailed hummingbird’s duties are done once he has mated, and the female is left to take care of her young alone.

Broad-tailed hummingbird flying
Broad-tailed hummingbird (male) flying | image by Greg Schechter via Wikimedia Commons | CC BY 2.0

10. Adult males are more colorful than females

Males of this species have brilliantly iridescent feathers that shimmer in the sunlight. Their throats are magenta red, with bluish-green on their head, backs and wings. They have a white belly with green sides.

Females also have metallic green heads and backs. However they don’t have the same brightly colored throat. Instead they have a white throat with green spots. Their sides tend to be a buffy orange-brown color, rather than the green of the males.

Adult males of this species will also often hold their tail feathers in a distinctive “V” shape, further emphasizing their feathers’ beauty. All in all, this species is an absolute delight to behold, and its colorful plumage is truly something special.