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Friday, April 24, 2015

Jewels of the West: Broad-tailed, Broad-billed, Black-chinned and Costa's Hummingbirds

[Hotspots in AZ and TX. April 2015]

Hummingbirds are delightfully enigmatic birds and their adaptive specializations demand a never-ending stream of superlatives in our attempts to describe them: the tiniest, the most brilliantly iridescent,  the most versatile in flight, the lightest, the most metabolically intense, and more... the list goes on.

Costa's Hummingbird seen at Molino Vista, Mt. Lemmon, AZ.

Little wonder, then, that hummingbirds are a source of endless fascination for us today and we can only imagine, two centuries ago, as they were being discovered scientifically, the novelty these unparalleled birds must have presented to naturalists from the Old World. 

One such hummingbird aficionado was Louis Costa, Marquis de Beauregard, a French nobleman who in the early 1800's amassed an unmatched collection of hummingbirds. Thus, when in 1839 the naturalist Jules Bourcier first encountered the type specimen for a 3-inch hummer with a brilliant violet crown and gorget, he had no hesitation in naming it, Calypte costae, or, Costa's Hummingbird. At the time, the Marquis was only 33 years old and must have felt exceedingly honored to have his name lent to this violet marvel.

Costa's Hummingbird seen at Molino Vista, Mt. Lemmon, AZ.
Costa's Hummingbird is found in the US only in appropriate habitat -- in a small area covering the Sonoran and Mojave deserts in Arizona and California. The individual pictured in this blog was observed at Molino Vista, Mt. Lemmon, AZ.

Costa's Hummingbird seen at Molino Vista, Mt. Lemmon, AZ.
Unlike the Costa's, the Broad-billed Hummingbird is restricted solely to Arizona; and, at 4 inches, it is also 33% larger:

Broad-billed Hummingbird seen at Tanque Verde Wash, Tucson, AZ.
The male is a metallic green with a deep blue throat; the bill is red and tipped in black. It is probably one of the most commonly seen hummingbird species observed in Southeast Arizona.

Broad-billed Hummingbird seen at Tanque Verde Wash, Tucson, AZ
The similar sounding Broad-tailed Hummingbird is the odd one out here -- it prefers sub-alpine meadows over desert habitat. In this instance, it was observed at Big Bend National Park which has a variety of habitats favorable to hummingbirds. Broad-tailed Hummers are found throughout the Rocky Mountains region of the US.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird seen at Big Bend NP, TX
Compare the Broad-tailed with Anna's Hummingbird and the key difference will be readily apparent: the color of the crown -- green in the latter and red in the former.

Finally, the Black-chinned Hummingbird:

Black-chinned Hummingbird seen at Tanque Verde Wash, Tucson, AZ
Black-chinned Hummingbird seen at Tanque Verde Wash, Tucson, AZ
When the light hits the male Black-chinned Hummingbird's gorget at just the right angle, it will shine a deep purple; however, as its name implies, most of the time the gorget appears an ordinary black. This is the most widespread hummer of the four presented here -- ranging West from Texas and North all the way up to southern British Columbia.

The only bird that can fly backward; or go into torpor; or that consumes more than its weight in nectar daily -- the hummers are exceptional in so many different respects that it is small wonder that they are favorites of birding folk the world over. A fact, no doubt, underscored by the quartet of enchanting hummer species presented here. But, to see the widest assortment of US hummers, the intrepid birder will have to heed the immortal words of Horace Greeley "Go West, young man" -- as the Eastern US is regrettably deficient in hummingbird species (excepting the Ruby-throated, of course).

Other hummers profiled in this blog: Blue-throated Hummingbird, Magnificent Hummingbird, Allen's Hummingbird, Anna's Hummingbird, Buff-bellied Hummingbird.


France Paulsen said...

What a nice collection of Hummingbirds! I've seen the Ruby-throated myself only a couple of times and every time I am mesmerized by its beauty and its agility.

Bob Pelkey said...

With the four species of hummingbird you highlight in this article, the five you provide links to, and your Ruby-throated Hummingbird leaves then only six hummer species left to find, Hemant. Very impressive.