Broad-tailed Hummingbird (Selasphorus platycercus) – Identification & Characteristics

broad tailed hummingbird
The broad-tailed hummingbird is a North American descendant of the Trochilidae family. Broad-tailed hummingbirds usually fly to Mexico or Guatemala in the winter and migrate to Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, New Mexico, Southern Montana, and Wyoming in the spring.

It seems that so many hummingbirds look alike – their gorget being the only thing that distinguishes them from one another. The broad-tailed hummingbird can be confused with other hummingbird species, like the Ruby-throated hummingbirds (especially in North America, where you can find both), Calliope hummingbirds, Rufous hummingbirds, and Allen’s hummingbirds.

However, it’s bigger than some of them. But its characteristics are not to be mistaken for other species. Let’s get into more details about what makes this medium-sized bird unique.

broad tailed hummingbird

Broad-tailed hummingbirds appearance

Adult males have a gorgeous majestic pink magenta gorget. They have a green back, white chest and belly. Their rounded tail feathers extend beyond their wingtips – So you can say they are indeed broad-tailed. Females have a pale eye-ring and green spots on their throats and buffy sides, with rufous outer tail feathers.

Other features:

Broad-tailed hummingbirdMeasurement
Overall Size10 cm
Wingspan13 cm
Weight3.6 grams (0.13 oz)
Wingbeats per Second50

Broad-tailed hummingbirds life-cycle

When the breeding season arrives, male broad-tailed hummingbirds do their courtship displays when they make impressive dives and loud sounds with their wing feathers to impress the ladies. When they make their dive, the broad-tailed hummingbird also makes a metallic wing trill sound.

Broad-tailed hummingbirds don’t mate for life – males usually have more partners per mating season. After the mating period has ended, the male broad-tailed hummingbird has no part in the nest building, incubation, or raising the hatchlings – the mother hummingbird does all of that on her own.

The female broad-tailed hummingbird builds its nest out of lichen, moss, plant fiber, leaves, and bark (on the outside) – and wraps it all up with a spider web, as it acts precisely like glue. It usually takes her up to 5 days to build the nest. Initially small (enough to fit about two eggs), it usually gets bigger as the chicks grow.

After building their nest and laying the eggs, the incubation period usually lasts up to three weeks (typically 16-19 days). Finally, when the chicks hatch, the Broad-tailed mother hovers around and starts looking for food.

broad tailed hummingbird drinking nectar

What do broad-tailed hummingbirds eat?

Broad-tailed hummingbirds typically eat small insects (snatching them from spider webs or mid-air). They are particularly fond of gnats, mosquitoes, fruit flies, spiders, mites, and even beetles.

They also supplement their diet with nectar from flowers and feeders, and tree sap where woodpeckers hang around. Their long bill is perfectly designed to fit through any tubular flower, ensuring they have no competition over other birds with less outstanding bills.

When getting their nectar, they feel most drawn to red or orange tubular flowers – they like to reach inside them using their unusually long tongues. Because broad-tailed hummingbirds have a fast metabolism and fly around all day (seemingly never getting tired), they have to eat a significant amount of food, so they usually have food sources around them. 

However, when they starve, they can enter a state of torpor – like a hibernation phase in which their metabolism slows down, allowing them to “skip a meal,” so to speak. The longest a hummingbird can go without eating is about 5 hours.

Where do Broad-tailed hummingbirds live?

Broad-tailed hummingbirds typically live in high-elevation areas, close to pine-oaks and pinyon-juniper, montane valleys, open woodland, and forests in the Western United States and the Rocky Mountains. In the wintering months, these hummingbirds make the migration down to southern Mexico and even as south as Guatemala.

female broad tailed hummingbird

Conservation status

These hummingbirds can live a long and happy life – the oldest broad-tailed hummingbird ever discovered had 12 years and two months! But their habitat change is making them suffer more and more.

Broad-tailed hummingbirds are less endangered than other hummingbird species and are prevalent in many regions. However, Cornell Lab of Ornithology addressed that their number has dropped slightly over the last years, one reason being the harsh cold winters they sometimes have to endure.

The breeding population number is about 10 million birds! But it’s essential to keep the number rising or at least steady, instead of decreasing.

People can help by putting bird feeders in their gardens and making their backyards as hummingbird-friendly as possible to ensure that the population doesn’t continue to decline. We encourage you to make your backyard look as close to a hummer’s natural habitat to nurture and keep them around for years to come!

You can attract broad-tailed hummingbirds with hummingbird feeders – and place homemade nectar inside them. You can make this nectar by combining sugar with water. But other than that, planting long red tubular flowers in your garden is the best option to make these hummingbirds fall in love with you.

This particular species of hummingbird usually requires up to a quarter acre of territory to roam around and look for food. If you want to know where you can find sightings of these beautiful hummingbirds, look for a specific field guide to getting you to the right spot – an example would be North American Hummingbirds: An Identification Guide.

Tara Summerville

Tara Summerville is a freelance writer that loves her backyard birdfeeders. She enjoys sitting on her deck with a cup of coffee, watching cardinals, blue jays, finches, and chickadees munch away at her backyard offerings. Her fascination with birds began as a child; spending afternoons at her grandma's house watching and identifying birds. She has since carried her love of songbirds into adulthood and ensures no bird in her yard goes hungry!

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