Blue-throated Hummingbird

Lampornis clemenciae

(c) Tom Grey
  • TROCHILIDAE
  • Hummingbirds
  • Apodiformes
  • Colibrí de Garganta Azul
  • Colibri à Gorge Bleue
Introduction

Weighing in at three times more than the familiar Ruby-throated Hummingbird, the Blue-throated is our country's largest hummingbird. While not as gaudy as many hummingbirds, the Blue-throated Hummingbird's vocalizations are complex. The Blue-throated Hummingbird's large size, assertive behavior, and relative accessibility have made it a frequent subject of research.

Appearance Description

The Blue-throated Hummingbird is five inches long, with an eight-inch wingspan, and weighs .27 ounces (7.6 grams). The bird is uniformly gray below, with a bronze rump and an oversized blackish tail with large white corners. Despite its name, the blue on the male's throat is not easily seen. Relatives of the Blue-throated Hummingbird, including the Amethyst-throated Hummingbird, typically have plumage showing a higher degree of sexual dimorphism, and more extensive iridescence.

Range Map
Courtesy Kenn Kaufman
Range Distribution

The normal range north of Mexico is limited to canyons in a few mountains near the U. S. border, and along rare, perennially flowing streams in the shady mountain canyons of southeastern Arizona, southwestern New Mexico, and western Texas.

Habitat

This northern hummingbird is one of the most ecologically selective, preferring the edges of mountaintop conifer forests in the highlands of Mexico and the shady understory of deciduous streamside forests in the mountain ranges of the southwestern United States. This hummingbird's breeding range consists of moist pine-fir and highland deciduous forests, pine-oak woodland, forest edges, second growth, and shrubby areas. Though they are usually found in moist, shady areas, Blue-throated Hummingbirds may wander into drier habitats nearby when foraging. They can also occupy appropriate habitat over a broad elevational range. Migration routes and winter ranges include lower, often drier habitats. The winter range also includes tropical deciduous and evergreen forests to elevations as low as sea level.

Feeding

Blue-throated Hummingbirds feed on floral nectar and small invertebrates, including flying insects and small spiders; they may raid spider webs for prey spiders. The birds hover at flowers to drink nectar; nectar-feeding frequency is highest early and late in the day and during inclement weather. These hummingbirds pursue flying insects from exposed perches and in sustained foraging flights over forest openings and water bodies. They also glean vegetation for invertebrates, flying up and down tree trunks and large branches and hovering to pluck insects from bark and foliage, particularly during periods of low invertebrate activity. The large size and aggressive nature of this species make it a regular at both natural nectar sources and feeding stations. Artificial feeding may help northern members of this species survive winters in high-elevation habitats; a few individuals are now year-round residents at feeding stations in Arizona, far from the known northernmost limit of the species' permanent range in northwestern Mexico.

Reproduction

In Arizona, adult Blue-throated Hummingbirds return to their breeding areas in March, and nest-building begins by early April. In high elevations of southern Mexico, the season may begin up to two months later. Nest-building immediately precedes mating and egg-laying. Nest sites are typically sheltered by overhanging rocks or stream banks; nests may be built on tree branches, roots, leaves, or stems, on sheltered rock ledges, at cave entrances, in abandoned Black Phoebe nests, or attached to human-made structures. The hummingbirds' preference for protected sites makes their nests less vulnerable to weather and heat loss. The nest, primarily spider silk, is built entirely by the female. Other materials are added as lining and camouflage, including plant fibers, seed plumes, feathers, animal hair, insect cocoons, and fern hairs. Female may remove materials from old nests to use in new nests. Protected nest sites often persist for many seasons and are used as foundations for subsequent nests.

Females typically produce multiple broods. Two dull white eggs are typically laid one day apart after the nest cup is completed. Incubation may be delayed until both eggs are laid. The female incubates the eggs for 17 to 19 days, then begins her nearly continuous brooding of the featherless hatchlings as soon as they appear. Brooding decreasing in frequency and duration until nestlings are 10 to 12 days old and capable of thermoregulation. Nests visits by males are rare. The female feeds the young by regurgitation of predigested arthropods mixed with nectar. In Arizona, the young leave the nest 24 to 26 days after hatching; the female locates her fledgling by calls and feeds them for at least several days after departing the nest. More mature young actively follow and beg food from the female.

Migration

Blue-throated Hummingbirds are partial short-distance migrants. Northernmost populations are largely absent from their breeding range during winter; a few remain as residents, mostly near feeding stations. Migration in southern populations may be primarily altitudinal; populations on Cerro San Felipe, Oaxaca, retreat from higher elevations in winter, returning in late June. Other populations return to their northern breeding areas from by May. They typically leave their breeding areas in Arizona, Texas, and Sonora, Mexico beginning in September, migrating south mostly through higher mountain elevations.

  • 2,000,000
  • unknown
Population Status Trends

The Blue-throated Hummingbird is relatively easy to census due to the conspicuous high-pitched peeps of the territorial males, but most populations reside in areas lacking systematic ongoing efforts to monitor bird populations. Reduced numbers have been observed in Sierra Huachinera, Mexico, where habitat loss may be a factor. However, CBC data show increased numbers, and the bird's U.S. range may be expanding. Global populations appear to be stable, and the IUCN evaluates this bird as a "species of least concern".

Conservation Issues

This species is unusual among North American hummingbirds for its riparian habitat preferences. Humans are drawn to the same habitats, and the Blue-throated Hummingbird, tolerant of human activity, even nests in high-traffic areas on or around buildings. Like most hummingbirds, it is readily attracted to flower gardens and sugar-water feeders, a fact which ornithologists, birders, and photographers have long used to attract them.

This hummingbird is vulnerable to development. The availability of human food to hummingbird nest predators such as jays, ringtails, and coatis in populated areas such as Arizona's Ramsey and Cave Creek Canyons, may result in increased rates of predation.

At the northwestern edge of its range, the Blue-throated Hummingbird is uncommon and confined to a few narrow, moist canyons in the higher mountains. This habitat specificity makes the bird particularly vulnerable to the degradation of riparian corridors through logging, grazing, mining, water diversion, and/or the introduction of exotic plants. Catastrophic fires fueled by fire suppression can also destroy riparian forests. Texas populations are largely confined to the Chisos and Guadalupe Mountains, where habitat is protected by national-park status; however most habitats in Arizona, New Mexico, and northern Mexico lacks full protection. In Mexico, the species' affinity for forest understory makes it vulnerable to logging, which threatens forests throughout the Sierra Madre region. The replanting of burned and clear-cut forests with monoculture tree species of high market value, and the resulting loss of biodiversity, impacts habitat and food availability. Declining numbers of Blue-throated Hummingbirds in Sierra Huachinera, Mexico may result from the impacts of drought upon a favorite hummingbird flower, the Mexican lobelia.

What You Can Do

Support the protection of the Blue-throated Hummingbird's riparian habitat from logging, grazing, mining, water diversion, and invasive plants.

Find out about actions you can take including Audubon programs and activities.

More Information

Audubon's Important Bird Area program is a vital tool for the conservation of Blue-throated Hummingbirds and other species. To learn more about the Important Bird Areas program, visit: www.audubon.org/bird/iba/.

Mexico also has an Important Bird Areas program that is working to protect habitat for Blue-throated Hummingbirds and other species. To learn more about Mexico's Important Bird Areas program and how you can help visit: http://conabioweb.conabio.gob.mx/aicas/doctos/aicas.html.

Pronatura is the BirdLife partner in Mexico, just as Audubon is the BirdLife partner in the United States. To learn more about Pronatura, visit: http://www.pronatura.org.mx/. To translate these pages to English, use the Google tool.

Learn more about this species and other birds through these resources

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Natural History References

Kaufman, Kenn. Lives of North American Birds. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York. 1996.

Sibley, David A. The Sibley Guide to Birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York. 2000.

Williamson, S. L. 2000. Blue-throated Hummingbird (Lampornis clemenciae). In The Birds of North America, No. 531 (A. Poole and F. Gill, Eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.

Conservation Status References

Kaufman, Kenn. Lives of North American Birds. Houghton Mifflin Company, New York. 1996.

Sibley, David A. The Sibley Guide to Birds. Alfred A. Knopf, New York. 2000.

Williamson, S. L. 2000. Blue-throated Hummingbird (Lampornis clemenciae). In The Birds of North America, No. 531 (A. Poole and F. Gill, Eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.