Selasphorus platycercus is a migratory species with some resident populations in Mexico. Migratory populations breed in Colorado and Wyoming, while tropical resident populations breed in central Mexico. Their winter range expands from northern Guatemala to northern Mexico. Information on non-migratory populations is lacking (Calder and Calder, 1992).
Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native ); neotropical (Native )
occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Breeding
Global Range: Breeding range includes the mountains from north-central Idaho, northern Utah, and northern Wyoming south to southeastern California, northeastern Sonora, central Mexico, and western Texas, as well as eastern Chiapas and Guatamala. Winter range extends from the highlands of northern Mexico to southern Mexico and Guatamala.
Broad-tailed hummingbirds are sexually dimorphic. Males have a metallic iridescent-rose colored gorget, green colored sides and back with some rufous color in the tail. The females are less colorful, lacking a complete gorget, and exhibiting buffy colored sides and a green back. Females are larger than males but body mass can vary during the course of a day based on nectar intake. Juvenile males look like adult females and are difficult to distinguish. (Kaufman, 2000).
Range mass: 3 to 4 g.
Range length: 83 to 97 mm.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry
Length: 10 cm
Weight: 4 grams
The breeding habitat of broad-tailed hummingbirds includes willows around wet or dry stream beds, pinion, juniper, spruce and oak woodlands. They are known to nest as high as 3,230 m. In their winter range, which overlaps with the breeding range of resident populations in Mexico, broad-tailed hummingbirds use thorn and oak forests at lower elevations, and mixed oak-pine and cypress as well as fir forests at higher elevations. Because of the year-round availability of hummingbird feeders in some areas, some individuals have taken up residence in urban and suburban areas of southwestern United States (Calder and Calder, 1992).
Range elevation: 1,000 to 4,000 m.
Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial
Terrestrial Biomes: forest ; scrub forest ; mountains
Other Habitat Features: urban ; suburban ; riparian
Habitat and Ecology
Comments: Habitat includes open woodland, especially pinyon-juniper, pine-oak, and conifer-aspen associations; also brushy hillsides and montane scrub and thickets. In migration and winter this hummingbird also inhabits open situations in lowlands with flowering shrubs. It may move to higher elevations after breeding. Nests usually are on low horizontal branches of willows, alders, cottonwoods, pines, firs, spruces, or aspens, generally 3-13 feet (1-4 meters) above ground, sometimes in tall sycamores or pines at 20-30 feet (6-9 meters). Nests often are above water (Johnsgard 1983).
Broad-tailed Hummingbirds can be found in high elevations of California, Mexico, and the southern and central Rocky Mountains. The live in open woodland, especially pinyon-juniper and pine-oak, brushy hillsides, montane scrub and thickets. In migration and winter you may also see them in open parts of lowlands where flowering shrubs are present. The cold climate of Broad-tailed Hummingbirds’ northernmost range, where temperatures may drop below freezing even in the summer, requires that these small-bodied birds select their immediate environments very carefully. Broad-tailed Hummingbirds live most often in subalpine meadows and shrubby areas with nearby forests of willow, pine, fir or spruce.
Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.
Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).
Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.
Breeding populations in the United States and northern Mexico move south for winter. They have departed from the northern part of the range usually by the end of September and from the southern United States by the end of October. Northward migration through the southern United States occurs from late February to April. Migrants arrive in northern breeding areas around mid-May.
Broad-tailed hummingbirds feed on floral nectar and small insects. They usually visit flowers with red tubular corollas like the Scarlet Gilia (Ipomopsis aggregata). In the wintering grounds Broad-tailed Hummingbirds are not the dominant species and may have to forage on less preferred flowers. A study done with Ruby Throated, Rufous and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds suggested that there may be an element of observational learning involved in learning to forage on novel food resources. Insects are caught in air as well as by gleaning from foliage. There is a daily steady gain in body mass of individuals from foraging over the course of a day, with a total gain of 30 to 34% of their body mass just before flying to their roosting sites. This large foraging bout before roosting is probably needed to store energy for overnight thermoregulation.
Nectar used by hummingbirds contains large amounts of water that a hummingbird has to pass through its body either by absorbing it into the intestinal tract to be processed by the kidneys or just letting it pass through the tract without absorption. Water intoxication would be a major problem for most vertebrate species under these conditions but hummingbirds are able to excrete large amounts of dilute urine and handle large amounts of water being processed by the kidneys. They do however vary the amount of nectar taken in based on the sugar concentration of that nectar.
Nectar is taken from the following plants: Ipomopsis aggregata, Aquilegia elegantula, A. triternata, Penstemon spp., Castilleja spp., Salvia spp., Echinocereus grandiflorum, Mertensia oblongiforum, Delphinuim nelsoni, Ribes ciliatum, Cestrum terminale, Buddleia dara and Senecio angulifolius.
(Calder and Calder, 1992; Calder, 1994; McWhorter and Martinez del Rio, 1999; Altshuler and Nunn, 2001)
Animal Foods: insects
Plant Foods: nectar
Primary Diet: omnivore
Comments: Diet includes nectar (primary sources vary with location) and small insects and spiders obtained from flowers, foliage, or by hawking. See Johnsgard (1983) for review of nectar sources in different areas.
Broad-tailed Hummingbirds primarily consume nectar from flowers such as red columbine, indian paintbrush, sage, and scarlet mint. Broad-tailed Hummingbirds also feed from flowers that are not typically used by other hummingbirds, including pussywillows, currants, and glacier lilies. They will also eat small insects, gleaning them from leaves and snatching them from midair.
Broad-tailed hummingbirds are important pollinators of the plant species they forage on. (Calder and Calder, 1992).
Ecosystem Impact: pollinates
Known prey organisms
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
In Arizona, males defended breeding territory that averaged about 2040 sq m; in Colorado, males observed displaying close to one another in apparent lek (see Johnsgard 1983). May compete with rufus hummingbird for same food resources in some areas.
In their mountain breeding areas, where nectar may be limited and night rather cold, broad-tailed hummingbirds regularly exhibit greatly lowered body temperatures at night in response to inadequate energy intake or the need to conserve energy for flight the next day.
Life History and Behavior
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Broad-tailed Hummingbirds move solely by flight. When they forage they hover, beating their wings at a frequency of 50 wingbeats per second. When the nights are too cold, it is not uncommon for the incubating females to go into a hypothermic torpor. Broad-tailed Hummingbirds are promiscuous, may mate with several individuals in a season, and do not form pair bonds. Males do not contribute to nest construction or care of young. When male Broad-tailed Hummingbirds are courting, they climb to great heights, hover, loudly trill their wings, and dive down to the females again in spectacular displays.
Clutch Size: 2 eggs
Number of Broods: 1 broods
Egg Length: 0.5–0.6 in , 1.2–1.5 cm
Egg Width: 0.3–0.4 in , 0.8–1 cm
Incubation Period: 16–19 days
Nestling Period: 21–26 days
Condition at Hatching: Helpless.
Female Broad-tailed Hummingbirds build their nest in 4-5 days. They make a thick inner cup out of spiderweb and gossamer and camouflage the outside with lichens, moss, and bark fragments. The structure, often anchored to the branch with spider webbing, is a well-insulated and substantially decreases the nighttime energy requirements of the incubating female. When the nest is finished it has an outer diameter of 2 inches and a 0.8 inch inside diameter, but it stretches as the chicks grow until the cup is flattened into a platform shape.
Breeding season for the Broad-tailed Hummingbird begins with the flowering of their food sources. They often make trips to prospective nest sites before there is an adequate food supply in the area. They look for a site in a conifer, willow, alder, or cottonwood that will help them conserve heat, such as a low branch shielded by overhanging limbs or trunk deformities.
Life expectancy is 1.6 years based on the 50% mark on a survivorship curve in males and 1.9 years in females. The highest recorded age for wild females is 12 years and 8 years in males. (Calder and Calder, 1992)
Status: wild: 12 (high) years.
Status: wild: 8 to 12 years.
Status: wild: 1.75 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Broad-tailed hummingbirds have a promiscuous mating system in which male and female only interact for copulation. Males may mate with as many as six females in a season. (Calder and Calder, 1992)
Males court females by doing a series of diving displays. A lek display of three males has been observed, but it could have been a misinterpreted territorial stand. After the copulation, the female may stay and preen for a few minutes before flying away. Nests are built by the female alone. Nests take a hemisphere shape with a depression on top. Their inner diameter is 1.9 cm. Eggs are laid in clutches of two. (Calder and Calder, 1992)
Breeding season: May through August
Average eggs per season: 2.
Range time to hatching: 16 to 19 days.
Average fledging age: 25 days.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female): 1 years.
Average age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male): 1 years.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; fertilization (Internal ); oviparous
Average eggs per season: 2.
Female broad-tailed hummingbirds make the nest and raise the young on their own. Ten to twelve days after hatching, females start to roost away from the nest, where there is almost not enough space for the young to huddle together. Females feed young mostly small insects through their development, and then they abandon them to start their south-bound migration (Calder and Calder, 1992).
Parental Investment: altricial ; female parental care
In Arizona, Utah, and Colorado egg laying occurs primarily in June-July. Clutch size is 2. Incubation, by the female, lasts 16-17 days. Young are tended by the female, fledge in 21-26 days (18 days also reported). Individual females occasionally attempt 2 broods in a single season, but one is the norm. Females may nest close together.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Selasphorus platycercus
Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.
See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.
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Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Selasphorus platycercus
Public Records: 3
Specimens with Barcodes: 5
Species With Barcodes: 1
Increased use of feeders help to sustain populations in times of resource scarcity (Calder and Calder, 1992).
US Migratory Bird Act: protected
US Federal List: no special status
CITES: no special status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N5B - Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Hummingbirds, especially in areas where feeders are present, can be popular attractions for tourists to want to visit. Broad-tailed hummingbirds can be incorporated into ecotourism in areas where they are prevalent.
Positive Impacts: ecotourism
Male and female both have iridescent green backs and crowns and a white breast. The male has a gorget (throat patch) that shines with a brilliant pink-red iridescence and a broad, predominantly black tail accented with varying amounts of green, rufous, and occasionally white. The female is much duller with pale rust-colored sides and outer tail feathers banded in rufous, green, black, and white. In flight the male's wings produce a distinct trilling sound diagnostic for this species.
The summer range of the broad-tailed hummingbird extends across mountain forests and meadows throughout the Western United States, specifically the central Rocky Mountain region and southwards; the resident birds range from the cordilleran mountain areas of northern Mexico as far south as Guatemala. At summer's end the northerly birds migrate and overwinter in the southern part of their range. This species is somewhat vagrant, especially wintering birds, and is regularly seen in El Salvador where it does not breed. They occur at altitudes ranging from 700–900 m (2,300–3,000 ft) up to 3,350 m (10,990 ft) ASL in the tropical parts of their range.
Broad-tailed hummingbirds consume the typical hummingbird diet of flower nectar and arthropods, which are taken in flight and gleaned from vegetation. Sap from trees and shrubs is used as a nectar substitute.
Nests are small cup of plant fibers woven together and bound to a branch with collected spider webs. The female lays two plain white eggs that she alone will incubate for 16 to 19 days. Young broad-tailed hummingbirds fledge about 23 days after hatching. This species is known to hybridize with other hummingbird species, including black-chinned, white-eared, and Costa's.
- BirdLife International (2012). "Selasphorus platycercus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
- "Broad-tailed hummingbird Selasphorus platycercus". Patuxent Bird Identification InfoCenter. United States Geological Survey (USGS). Retrieved 2008-09-03.
- Williamson 2001
- Herrera et al. (2006)
- E.g. Ice-cream-bean (Inga edulis): Herrera et al. (2006)
- Calder and Calder 1992
- Huey (1944)
- Herrera, Néstor; Rivera, Roberto; Ibarra Portillo, Ricardo & Rodríguez, Wilfredo (2006): Nuevos registros para la avifauna de El Salvador. ["New records for the avifauna of El Salvador"]. Boletín de la Sociedad Antioqueña de Ornitología 16(2): 1-19. [Spanish with English abstract] PDF fulltext
- Calder, William A., and Lorene Calder (1992). Broad-tailed Hummingbird (Selasphorus platycercus). In The Birds of North America. No. 16 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.
- Huey, Laurence M. (1944). A hybrid Costa's × Broad-tailed hummingbird. Auk 61(4): 636-637. PDF fulltext
- Williamson, S. L. (2001). A Field Guide to Hummingbirds of North America (Peterson Field Guide Series). Houghton Mifflin. Co., Boston, MA.
Description and cool facts
A hummingbird of subalpine meadows, the Broad-tailed Hummingbird ranges across the south-central Rockies in summer. It possesses a number of physiological and behavioral adaptations to survive cold nights, including the ability to enter torpor, slowing its heart rate and dropping its body temperature.
The Broad-tailed Hummingbird enters torpor, a slowed metabolic state, on cold nights. It maintains a body temperature of about 12.2°C (54°F) when ambient temperatures fall below 10°C (44°F).
In some areas of Broad-tailed Hummingbird breeding habitat, cold air descends into valleys at night, with warmer areas upslope. This phenomenon is called a thermal inversion. The male Broad-tailed Hummingbird, which does not attend the nest, goes upslope at night to conserve heat, reducing the energy costs of thermoregulation by about 15 percent.