Broad-tipped Hermit Hummingbird Species

The Broad-tailed Hummingbird (Selasphorus platycercus) is a small hummingbird species found in the western United States and Mexico. Known for its iridescent green back, white breast, and distinctive broad tail, this agile and bold hummingbird has captured the fascination of birders and nature enthusiasts.

Physical Description

The adult male broad-tailed hummingbird measures 3.5-4 inches in length and weighs around 0.1 ounces. Females are slightly larger at 3.75-4.25 inches. Their wingspans range from 4.3-5.5 inches. As their name suggests, these tiny birds have broad tails that can span up to 1.6 inches, appearing fan-shaped when fanned open. When perched, the tail may look square-tipped.

Males sport a glittering emerald green back and crown. Their throats glow ruby red in the light. The breast is snow white along with the rump. Females lack the vibrant iridescent plumage of males. Instead, they have pale green backs, gray-white undersides, and white tips on their tail feathers. Juveniles resemble adult females but with buffy streaks on their throats and breasts.

Distribution and Habitat

The breeding range of broad-tailed hummingbirds extends across the mountainous regions of the western United States including California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, New Mexico and Arizona between 4,000 to 10,500 feet in elevation. They are year-round residents in parts of Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona.

During winter, most broad-tailed hummingbirds migrate south to Mexico. Some individuals may also winter in parts of the southern United States along the Gulf Coast.

These birds favor meadows, pine-oak forests, mountain valleys, and canyon streams. The availability of flowering plants and nesting sites determines their distribution. They are also attracted to feeders in parks, gardens, and backyards.


To fuel their supercharged metabolisms, broad-tailed hummingbirds drink nectar from a variety of brightly colored tubular flowers. Some favorite nectar sources include Indian paintbrush, larkspur, columbine, trumpet creeper, bee balm, and sage. The birds use their slender bills to reach into flowers and lap up nectar with their forked tongues.

They also consume small insects and spiders to obtain important proteins and minerals. By snaring insects in mid-air or gleaning them from leaves and branches, they can eat up to half their weight in bugs each day!

Unique Adaptations

Broad-tailed hummingbirds possess specialized anatomical and physiological adaptations that enable their hummingbird lifestyle. Some of these remarkable adaptations include:

– Wings that can beat up to 70 times per second, allowing these agile fliers to hover in midair, fly backwards, and migrate long distances.

– A swift metabolism that requires them to consume over half their weight in nectar daily and to enter torpor, a dormant state, to conserve energy overnight.

– Tongues with forked tips that lap up nectar and tube-like beaks that access the nectar of specialized flowers.

– Weighing only as much as a penny, their tiny size enables maneuverability and access to tube-shaped flowers.

– Feathers containing no red pigment so they appear golden-green to other birds, not red like flowers they feed from. This helps avoid interspecies conflicts.

– Highly effective kidneys that can remove excess water from nectar so they don’t get overloaded with fluid.

Courtship and Nesting

In spring, male broad-tailed hummingbirds return earlier than females to their breeding territories in mountain meadows and pine forests. They aggressively chase other males to defend flower patches and establish breeding rights over prime real estate.

To attract females, males perform elaborate courtship displays. They fly in looping U-shaped patterns, reaching speeds of over 60 mph! Their wings buzz loudly and their throats glow bright red as they perch prominently to advertise their fitness.

Once paired, the female builds a tiny cup-shaped nest out of soft plant down, spider webs, and lichens. She uses spider silk to firmly bind it to a downward hanging tree limb, often overhanging a stream.

Two small white eggs are laid and incubated for 16-17 days. The chicks hatch with eyes sealed shut and almost devoid of feathers. They develop quickly under the devoted care of their mother who feeds them regurgitated insects. After about 25 days, the young leave the nest and must fend for themselves.

Interesting Behaviors

Broad-tailed hummingbirds exhibit some intriguing behavioral quirks and adaptations. Here are a few examples:

– To conserve energy overnight when food is unavailable, they enter torpor – a hibernation-like state where their metabolic rate and body temperature drops.

– Males perform dawn courtship displays, flying loop patterns and darting back and forth to impress females.

– They are bold and territorial; quick to investigate anything new entering their environment like feeders, people, or vehicles.

– Males produce buzzing sounds with their tail feathers during courtship dives while flying over 60 mph.

– They migrate remarkably long distances, with some western populations wintering in Mexico.

– They can remember the locations of reliable food sources and return to them regularly.

– To avoid overheating while hovering on hot days, they orient their wings like a thermal radiator to release excess body heat.

Conservation Status

Abundant populations of broad-tailed hummingbirds remain across most of their breeding and wintering habitat. Partners in Flight estimates a breeding population of 5.5 million and gives them a low vulnerability score. They are not considered endangered or threatened. Maintaining flower-rich mountain meadows and riparian areas will support their future success. Providing backyard feeders with sugar-water in warm months also aids hummingbirds. Limiting insecticide use helps ensure ample insect prey. As long as habitats remain intact, these flashy hummers will continue gracing the landscapes of the American West.

In summary, the broad-tailed hummingbird is a remarkable and charismatic species specially adapted for life on the wing. Their iridescent plumage, acrobatic flight maneuvers, important pollination services, and energetic territorial displays continue to fascinate naturalists and bird enthusiasts alike. Conserving their high-altitude breeding habitats will ensure these iconic birds thrive for generations to come.