Costa’s Hummingbird – The Purple Hummingbird of the Desert

costa's hummingbird
Costa's hummingbird is a small greyish-green hummingbird with a very pronounce purple gorget (throat area). This purple hummingbird is typically seen in desert-type and arid environments, but are know to migrate to surrounding states during the winter season. 

Hummingbirds are part of the Trochilidae family and are the smallest birds worldwide. There are so many species of hummingbirds out there. Still, we’re going to focus on a special one in this article: The beautiful Costa’s Hummingbird (Calypte costae), the purple hummingbird of the desert.

A lot of articles about hummingbirds talk most about the ruby-throated hummingbird. And that makes sense. After all, it’s the most common type of hummingbird. 

But we want to talk more about Costa’s hummingbird because it is the only hummingbird that is a true desert bird! Other hummingbirds roam around that area, but not many of them are as comfortable with this arid climate more than this species. 

costa's hummingbird in desert

Costa’s hummingbird habitat

Seeing this purple hummingbird fly around the arid and sandy landscape of the desert can undoubtedly be a feast for the eyes. It really looks like a moving jewel! Costa’s hummingbirds usually love arid climates and spend their time in deserts and canyons.

You can find them in areas like the Mojave Desert or the Sonoran from February until May or June. But you can also see Costa’s hummingbirds in the woods, meadows, brushlands, and gardens or backyards in Arizona, California, and Nevada. They can travel even as far as Alaska and British Columbia.

ruffled costa's hummingbird

Costa’s hummingbird appearance

The adult male has a vivid purple gorget that extends on the side and a purple crown. They have a white belly; the male also stands out through its very short stature. The female hummingbird is duller than the male – she has a green back, a white belly, and round tail feathers.

Costa’s hummingbirds resemble Lucifer hummingbirds, so people can easily mistake them for one another. However, Costa’s hummingbirds have a bigger body, and Lucifer hummingbirds (both males and females) have a curved bill that stands out from other hummingbirds. They also don’t have a purple crown like Costa’s hummingbirds.

If everything else fails, you can also recognize a male hummingbird by its high whistle, which is different from other hummingbirds.

costa's hummingbird in a natural forest like environment

Costa’s hummingbird breeding

Breeding starts from February to April in southern California deserts and Arizona – and sometimes even Oregon. When the breeding season begins, the male is the first to arrive on the ground. Male Costa’s hummingbirds engage in courtship dives to impress the females. They make sounds and loops and show off their impressive gorget to fight for that attention.

Male hummingbirds are not what you would consider monogamous and tend to have more partners per mating season. After it ends, the female Costa’s hummingbird is left to do everything alone. She builds the nest, incubates the eggs, and takes care of the hatchlings.

How can you attract Costa’s hummingbirds to your garden?

Since Costa’s hummingbirds are not massive travelers, you can get them to stay in one place all year-long as long as you put out your hummingbird feeders (and you have enough for all of them). You must always fill them with plenty of nectar (sugar water).

Another great idea is to attach an ant moat to the feeder to ensure ants will steer away from all that sweet nectar. Thus, they can quickly get used to living in your backyard. Besides bird feeders, you can also plant many tube-shaped red flowers, as that shape is perfect for their long bill that can reach even in the narrowest of tubes.

Costa’s hummingbirds like to feast on small insects, not just nectar. Keeping a garden with all kinds of plants is the perfect habitat where an abundance of insects will thrive and hummingbirds can find all they need.

Costa’s hummingbirds’ facts

Costa’s hummingbirds only migrate for short distances (shorter distances than other North American birds) compared to other hummingbirds. They migrate only to California, Mexico, and Arizona once they leave the desert.

Costa’s hummingbird’s food intake has to be enormous, it is estimated they visit at least 1800 flowers daily. If food is scarce, Costa’s hummingbirds can enter a torpid state (a dormant state of being) to slow down their metabolism and heart rate.

On an ordinary day, Costa’s hummingbirds’ heart rate is 500-900 beats per minute. But when they enter a state of torpor, their heart rate decreases to about 50 beats per minute. Costa’s hummingbirds can live a long time – the oldest Costa’s hummingbird ever recorded had about eight years and nine months.

Because Anna’s and Costa’s hummingbirds are used to staying in one place for longer, they may fight when they find each other on the same territory. And if you haven’t yet seen a territorial hummingbird, oh boy, you’re in for a treat.

Costa’s hummingbirds are the only hummingbirds that are true desert lovers and reside here. But other hummingbird species live near these desert areas, like black-chinned hummingbirds, broad-tailed hummingbirds, Rufous hummingbirds, Anna’s Hummingbirds, and Allen’s hummingbirds.

Costa’s hummingbirds usually eat nectar from flowers. They especially love to eat chuparosa and ocotillo (plants you can find in the desert). They will gather around your backyard bird feeder if you keep it clean and full of homemade nectar (sugar water). To supplement their diet, these purple hummingbirds also eat small protein-rich insects.

To learn more about bird species, check The Birds of the World Online from Cornell Lab of Ornithology to learn new information about your favorite bird.

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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