Broad-tailed HummingbirdSelasphorus platycercus

Broad-tailed Hummingbird
Broad-tailed Hummingbird
Broad-tailed Hummingbird
Broad-tailed Hummingbird



The metallic wing-trill of the male Broad-tailed Hummingbird is a characteristic sound of summer in the mountain west. This sound is often heard as a flying bird zings past unseen. The birds are seen easily enough, however, at masses of flowers in the high meadows, where they hover and dart around the blossoms, often fighting and chasing each other away from choice patches.


Mountain meadows and forests. Breeds mostly in mountains, up to over 10,000 feet elevation. Mostly in rather open forest, especially near streams, including pine-oak and pinyon-juniper woods, and associations of spruce, Douglas-fir, and aspen. Migrants occur in all semi-open habitats of mountains and also make stopovers in lowlands.

Feeding Diet

Mostly nectar and insects. Takes nectar from flowers, favoring red tubular flowers, and will feed on tiny insects as well. Also attracted to sugar-water mixtures in hummingbird feeders.

Feeding Behavior

At flowers, usually feeds while hovering, extending its bill and long tongue deep into the center of the flower. At feeders, may either hover or perch. When feeding on small insects, may fly out and grab them in midair, or hover to pluck them from foliage. Also sometimes takes spiders or trapped insects from spider webs.


Male defends territory by perching high, scanning for and then chasing intruders. In courtship display, male repeatedly climbs high in the air (up to 60 feet) and then dives, with a loud wing-trill. Nest site is in a tree, on a near-horizontal twig or branch, typically sheltered from above by an overhanging branch. Usually 4-20 feet above the ground, sometimes higher. Nest (built by female) is a neatly constructed cup of spider and plant down, with the outer edge covered with lichen, moss, bits of bark. Eggs: 2, rarely 1-3. White. Incubation is by female only, 16-19 days. Young: Female feeds the young. Nest stretches as the young birds grow. Age of young at first flight about 21-26 days.


2, rarely 1-3. White. Incubation is by female only, 16-19 days. Young: Female feeds the young. Nest stretches as the young birds grow. Age of young at first flight about 21-26 days.


Female feeds the young. Nest stretches as the young birds grow. Age of young at first flight about 21-26 days.


Still common and widespread, but surveys indicate declining numbers in recent decades.


Travels early in both spring and fall, with many moving north in early March, south in early August. Adult males migrate before females and young in both spring and fall. Tends to move north through the lowlands, south through the mountains.


chips and trill
flight display

Similar Species

adult male

Rufous Hummingbird

Although it is one of the smaller members in a family of midgets, this species is notably pugnacious. The male Rufous, glowing like new copper penny, often defends a patch of flowers in a mountain meadow, vigorously chasing away all intruders (including larger birds). The Rufous also nests farther north than any other hummingbird: up to south-central Alaska. Of the various typically western hummingbirds, this is the one that wanders most often to eastern North America, with many now found east of the Mississippi every fall and winter.

adult male

Allen's Hummingbird

A close relative of the Rufous Hummingbird, Allen's has a more limited range, nesting mostly in California. This is one of the two common nesting hummingbirds in northern California gardens (Anna's is the other). Females and immatures of Allen's Hummingbird are almost impossible to separate from Rufous females without close examination, so the status of the species in migration is still being worked out by dedicated hummingbird banders.

adult male

Calliope Hummingbird

This is the smallest bird in North America, measuring about 3 inches long and weighing about one-tenth of an ounce. Despite its tiny size, it is able to survive cold summer nights at high elevations in the northern Rockies, and some migrate every year from Canada all the way to southern Mexico. In migration it may be overlooked, often feeding at low flowers and avoiding the aggression of larger hummingbirds.

adult male

Black-chinned Hummingbird

Over much of the west, this species is widespread in many habitats at low elevations, often coming into suburban gardens and nesting in back yards within its range. Several other western hummingbirds may stay through the winter, at least in small numbers, but the Black-chin is almost entirely absent from the west in winter.

adult male

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Hundreds of kinds of hummingbirds nest in the American tropics, and more than a dozen in the western U.S., but east of the Great Plains there is only the Ruby-throat. There it is fairly common in summer in open woods and gardens. Hovering in front of a flower to sip nectar, it beats its wings more than 50 times per second. Impressive migrants despite their small size, some Ruby-throats may travel from Canada to Costa Rica.

adult male

Lucifer Hummingbird

A hummingbird of Mexico's central plateau that enters our area in the Big Bend region of western Texas and locally farther west. Adapted to desert regions, it is most often seen feeding at flowering agave stalks on arid hillsides. Although small in body size, it has a relatively long, curved bill and long tail. The tail of the male Lucifer is deeply forked, but this is rarely visible except when he spreads the tail wide during his display flight.

adult male

Anna's Hummingbird

This hardy little bird is a permanent resident along our Pacific Coast, staying through the winter in many areas where no other hummingbirds are present. More vocal than most hummingbirds, males have a buzzy song, often given while perched. In recent decades the species has expanded its range, probably helped along by flowers and feeders in suburban gardens; it now nests north to British Columbia and east to Arizona.


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