Xantus’s Hummingbird Species

With its vibrant iridescent plumage and energetic flight, the Xantus’s hummingbird (Basilinna xantusii) is a beautiful and fascinating bird. Unfortunately, this species is increasingly under threat and in need of conservation efforts to ensure its survival. Here is an in-depth look at this unique hummingbird and why it requires our attention.

Description

Xantus’s hummingbird is medium-sized with a total body length of 3.5-4 inches and weight of 2-3 grams. The male has brilliant, iridescent plumage in vivid shades of green, blue, and purple on its head, throat, back and tail. When the light hits just right, these feathers shine brightly. The female is less vivid but still has iridescent plumage in shades of green and brown.

Both sexes have a straight black bill and white underside. Juveniles resemble adult females but with buffy edges on their feathers. This species gets its name from John Xantus, a Hungarian zoologist who first collected the bird in 1859.

Range and Habitat

Xantus’s hummingbird is native to the Baja California Peninsula and parts of southern California. Its breeding habitat centers around desert oases and scrublands. It prefers areas with ample flowering plants and small trees for nesting. During winter, some birds migrate short distances to favorable sites in California.

This species faces habitat loss as development encroaches on its specialized desert oasis homes. Climate change also threatens to reduce available habitat as drought intensifies in the region. Expanding urban areas have increasingly fragmented its range.

Feeding Habits

Like all hummingbirds, Xantus’s hummingbirds feed on flower nectar and small insects and spiders. Their long, slender beak and tongue allows them to retrieve nectar from tubular flowers. Favorite food sources include desert willow, ocotillo, and chuparosa flowers, along with flowering cacti and agave plants. The birds move quickly from flower to flower, lapping up nectar with their specialized tongue that extends past the tip of the bill.

The birds get essential proteins, minerals, and other nutrients by snatching up tiny insects in midair or gleaning them from leaves and branches. They consume a large amount of food relative to their size, needing frequent refueling stops while hovering and flying. Plants that provide a reliable nectar source are critical for their survival in harsh desert environments.

Breeding and Nesting

The breeding season for Xantus’s hummingbird runs from late December through early June, though timing depends on the location. The male performs aerial displays to court females, diving and climbing in U-shaped patterns. If she accepts his advances, the pair mates and the female takes over nest building and care of the young.

The tiny nest is only about 1 inch wide and 1.5 inches tall, crafted from plant down, feathers, and spider webs. It is well camouflaged, hidden in low branches of trees or large shrubs. The female lays just two pea-sized white eggs. She incubates the eggs for 14-16 days until they hatch.

Chicks hatch with eyes closed and almost no feathers. They develop quickly though, ready to leave the nest in 18-23 days. The female cares for and feeds the chicks until they fledge. She also continues feeding the young birds for a week or two after they leave the nest.

Threats and Conservation

With its limited desert habitat, the Xantus’s hummingbird is vulnerable to population decline and extinction. Development, urbanization, grazing, and mining have led to loss and degradation of its specialized oasis breeding areas. Expanding palm and citrus groves also reduce available habitat.

Climate change brings worsening drought and reduced spring blooming of key food plants. Introduced aggressive competitors like the Anna’s hummingbird may crowd out Xantus’s hummingbirds or reduce available food supplies. Pesticide use can reduce insect prey populations. Nest parasitism by cowbirds can also lower reproductive success.

Due to declining numbers, the Xantus’s hummingbird is listed as Near Threatened by the IUCN Red List. Some conservation measures are helping protect key habitat areas and food sources. New wildlife refuges have been established in California and Mexico. Limiting grazing, mining, and development in protected desert zones can help preserve breeding areas. Maintaining natural water sources and flowering plants provides essential food and nesting sites.

Home gardeners in the range area can support Xantus’s hummingbirds by providing flowering nectar plants and fresh water. Avoiding pesticides also helps ensure plenty of insect prey. Careful monitoring of the species and protection efforts for its specialized habitat remain key priorities for this beautiful and imperiled bird. With targeted conservation action, we can provide a brighter future for Xantus’s hummingbird.