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Have you ever had the gift of seeing a Blue-throated Mountain Gem hummingbird fly backward? Hummingbirds are the only birds that can do that and fly upside down! That’s one sure way to determine you’ve seen a hummingbird! These fun-sized birds are restless and quickly flit about, making it difficult to see their true colors and identify markings. If the angle is not just right, their coloring can morph from an ethereal brilliance to dingy and drab.
The Blue-throated hummingbird is a sight to see whether flying upside down, backward, hovering, or diving. The shining cerulean blue throat is almost mystical to see, and the boldness of this tiny creature is surprising. The name of this hummingbird changed in 2019 from the Blue-throated Hummingbird to the Blue-throated Mountian Gem. Please note that for purposes of this article, I may use “Blue-throated Hummingbird” interchangeably with “Blue-throated Mountain Gem.”
The Mountain Gem birds are considered the “Lampornis” genus of hummingbirds and are relatively large for hummingbirds with fairly short black beaks that are slightly curved. The name stems from the areas where these birds are found; the mountainous southwestern part of the United States.
I remember the first time I saw a Hummingbird; I thought it was an insect. It moved so fast, darting around the flowers and hovering over the garden, that I couldn’t even see it clearly! It was a strange enough sight that I asked my mother what it was, and I didn’t believe her at first when she told me it was a bird! I still have those jaw-dropping moments when I see hummingbirds now.
Blue-throated Mountain Gem Hummingbird Quick Stats
|Southwestern US and Mexico||Mountainous forests near water||Bold and Aggressive||9 years average||4 to 6 inches||0.25 to 0.38 ounces||8 inches|
Why Are Blue-Throated Mountain Gem Hummingbirds so Special?
- The Blue-throated Mountain Gem hummingbird is not so small, being the largest in the United States, and its size is one of its distinguishing features.
- The Blue-throated Mountain Gem is three times as heavy as the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.
- Another sure identification marker for the Blue-throated Mountain Gem is the two white lines across its face, one above and one below its eyes. They are the only hummingbird to have these two lines.
- The wingbeats of the Blue-throated Mountain Gems are the slowest of any North American species. You can see and hear the difference in their wingbeats compared to other hummingbirds such as Rivoli’s.
- Blue-throated Mountain Gems have 23 wingbeats per second, which is amazingly fast, but consider that the smaller hummingbirds have wingbeats of up to 80 beats per second!
- Though the hummingbird species may be miniature, the Blue-throated Mountain Gem packs a ferocious punch. This is the most aggressive North American hummingbird and is often domineering and confrontational when other hummingbirds are near.
- The male Blue-throated Mountain Gem is more aggressive than the female and will dominate any area where there is nectar, be it a feeder or flower. Blue-throated Hummingbirds are very territorial, and if their nest is endangered, they will not hesitate to attack any size animal or even a human! It uses its beak like a sword to jab and stab at other birds, insects, and any threat, using its small size and quick movements to gain the upper hand.
- Another unique feature of the Blue-throated Mountain Gem is the attention to detail when camouflaging their nests. The female’s last efforts in building the nest always end with using moss as the surface layer to conceal the nest from predators.
Females Make the First Move
- Unusual for hummingbirds, the Blue-throated Mountain Gem males make no aerial courtship displays during mating season but sing a quiet song and flash their blue throat and tail feathers. The female has a special call to attract males and performs short flights during the mating season.
- The Blue-throated Mountain Gem’s role in the ecosystem is to pollinate shrubs and flowers. They contribute to ecotourism by attracting many visitors each year to Arizona, the hummingbird capital of the United States.
|Blue-throated Mountain Gem Hummingbird|
|(Animals)||(Chordates)||(Birds)||(Hummingbirds and Swifts)||(Hummingbirds)||(“Mountain gem” hummingbirds that inhabit mountainous regions)||Mountain-gem blue-throated hummingbirds
(Sub-species is L. clemenciae bessophilus)
Sub-Species of the Blue-Throated Mountain Gem Hummingbird
There are three sub-species of the Lampornis clemenciae species, and they are differentiated by their geographic ranges, and two are also differentiated by their color. The sub-species discussed in this article is Lampornis clemenciae bessophilus.
Lampornis clemenciae clemenciae – 1830
- Found in central Mexico
Lampornis clemenciae bessophilus (this article) – 1918
- Found in the southwestern United States for breeding and year-round in all parts of Mexico
- Their chest and upper back are paler and duller than the Blue
Lampornis clemenciae phasmorus- 1974
- This sub-species is found in Texas
- More green than the bessophilus, with a shorter beak than the bessophilus
Range of the Blue-Throated Mountain Gem
The Blue-throated Mountain Gem is found in Mexico year-round and migrates to the mountainous regions of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas for the breeding season. Random sightings of vagrant birds have been noted in California, Colorado, Alabama, and Louisiana. Each Blue-throated Mountain Gem has a territory between one-tenth of an area to one-fifth of an acre, which is plenty of room considering their size.
|Blue-throated Mountain Gem|
|United States Range|
|Rarely (vagrant) in California||Rarely (vagrant) in Colorado||Rarely (vagrant) in Louisiana and Alabama|
The Blue-throated Mountain Gem prefers pine-oak and pine-fir forests and other mixed woodlands near a water source in the mountains. Often they search for shaded areas to manage the temperature of their home. They forage in the underbrush, where there are wide swaths of nectar-producing flowers. Blue-throated Mountain Gems are frequently seen at elevations between 4,000 and 11,000 feet and rarely any lower. During the winter, they are more frequent in the lower range of this elevation.
Year-round in Mexico, the Blue-throated Mountain Gem can be found in similar areas as the United States, with mountainous forests near water being a preference, but they are also frequently found in open grasslands on the banks of rivers or in shrubby undergrowth near streams. An area with dense trees that lose their leaves in the fall and get heavy rainfall is also home to the Blue-throated Mountain Gem, which can be found in elevations from sea level to the tops of the highest trees.
The Blue-throated Mountain Gem is the largest nesting North American hummingbird, measuring up to 6 inches and weighing up to 0.38 ounces. It has a large wingspan of 8 inches and a low wingbeat speed. The Blue-throated Mountain Gem has a shimmering bronze-green back with a grey underside. Distinct field markings for both the male and female include two white slashes above and below the eyes that extend almost to the neck.
The male Blue-throated Mountain Gem has a gleaming azure blue throat that shines in the sun but can look grayish in darker lights, and the female has a grayish pale throat. Both male and female wings are a dark greenish gray that can have a glimmer sheen to them, and both have an iridescent forest green, blackish-colored tail with green/bronze mottling at the top. The tail of the Blue-throated Hummingbird is broad and long, with a wide white swath on the ends.
The iridescent blue on the male’s throat can be hard to see if the lighting is poor, but once it hits those magical feathers just right, you’ll be rewarded with a dazzling cerulean sheen.
The Blue-throated Hummingbird eats more insects such as spiders, flies, bees, and wasps than other hummingbirds, and because of this, it can survive in environments where hummingbirds dependent upon nectar can not. This increases their territory and increases their brood rate, and population. The birds catch the insects mid-flight, on leaves or branches, and even in spider webs! When a female is nesting, she can catch up to 2,000 insects daily!
During the dry seasons when nectar is harder to find, these Blue-throated Mountain Gems survive heartily on insects and spiders, whereas other species may not survive.
Hummingbirds will seek out the highest sugar content nectar in flowers from feeders, or trees, herbs, and shrubs, which oftentimes are red and tubular shaped. This higher sugar content provides increased energy for them and will aggressively protect their preferred food source once they have found it. While hovering over the flower, they will turn their tails upward and use their long tongue to lick the nectar 13 times per second!
These high-energy flowers and hummingbirds have a mutually beneficial relationship. Because the shape of the tubular flowers deters most bees and butterflies from pollinating them, it is only the hummingbirds that pollinate them. They rely on each other!
Blue-throated hummingbirds will also visit bird baths and fountains for water.
The Temperament of the Blue-throated Mountain Gem Hummingbird
Blue-throated hummingbirds are aggressive protectors of their feeding area and will chase away same-sex birds and large insects like the hawk moth. They perform threatening aerial dances meant to intimidate and mark their territory. When defending their young and nests, hummingbirds are ferocious fighters and will attack hawks and humans when provoked. These tiny creatures are the most aggressive bird when defending their young.
This hummingbird is especially vocal, and the male sounds like a squeaky wheel on repeat when he’s in the air or perching. He also has a whisper soft complicated call that is extremely quiet. Listen to the song of the Blue-throated Mountain Gem.
In the southwestern United States, the Blue-throated Mountain Gem arrives in March to begin the breeding season in April. Mating season ends in August, and by mid-October, the birds have migrated south to Mexico for the winter. Some Blue-throated Mountain Gems do not move north for breeding but remain in Mexico.
Courtship and Mating
|Blue-throated Mountain Gem Hummingbird Mating|
|Sexual Maturity||Breeding Season||Average eggs/brood||Average broods/season||Incubation||Fledging Age|
|One year||Feb to Sep (location dependent)||2||2||17 to 19 days||25 to 29 days|
During the mating season, which is April through August in the U.S., the female Blue-throated hummingbird will sing to attract a mate, which is one of the infrequent times you hear her song. The male does not perform aerial displays for the female but rather flashes his blue throat and shows his white-tipped flight feathers.
The male also creates a complicated song that he sings very low during the mating season. This soft song of the male Blue-throated Mountain Gem is met with the female flying or perching quite close to a male and mimicking his song. This only happens with Blue-throated Mountain Gem Hummingbirds.
The Blue-throated Mountain Gem Hummingbirds breed at high elevations from 6,000 to 11,000 feet, and then during the winter, they can be found at lower elevations. The female can have up to three broods in one season!
After being so familiar with the vast species of monogamous birds, the courtship and breeding period of the Blue-throated Hummingbirds is quite the script flip. The male is only a sperm donor, leaving the female after copulation to inhabit higher elevations. The female does all of the nest building and raising of the chicks.
Unique Nesting Preference
When the female Blue-throated Mountain Gem builds her cup-shaped nest, she uses sticky spider webs and other similar substances to weave throughout the nest, making it flexible so it can stretch to accommodate several growing chicks. Usually, the nest will be strong enough to expand to double its size! Moss, plant pieces, soft animal hair, and down from feathers will line the nest’s interior, providing a cushy home for the eggs.
Blue-throated Mountain Gem Hummingbirds are very concerned about having a safe place to raise their babies from predators, so the location will be one that the female thinks will be guarded. When choosing the nesting place, the Blue-throated Hummingbird differs from other North American hummingbirds (most prefer trees and bushes) and prefers a nesting spot with an overhang, in a covered area, such as in a canyon rock wall, under a rocky outcrop, roof, or onto the side of a wall. The nest is 6 feet or more above the ground.
The Blue-throated Mountain Gem is careful to nest near or over running water and uses the same nest each year for raising her chicks! Every year she enlarges the nest, building on top of the previous year’s until it eventually looks like a tower, albeit a small tower of about six inches!
A secure and steady platform that will form the base of the nest is an important consideration for the female Blue-throated Hummingbird, as the tiny structure will be especially affected by strong winds and rain. A connection point that forms a loose “L” shape is often used to strengthen the bottom, and the female will actually test the strength of the platform! She will do this by landing on it from several different angles and speeds; if it meets her approval, she will build her nest!
While other birds use twigs, branches, string, and mud for nests, Blue-throated Hummingbirds use soft, downy plant fibers from many sources, including dandelions, sunflowers, cottonwood, poplar, and willow trees, pussy willows, and cattails.
Once the supporting scaffolding on the bottom is completed, the female will begin on the sides, standing in the middle of the platform to place the materials around her in a circle. Using her long beak like a knitting needle, she intertwines the plant fibers with sticky substances such as spider webs that increase the nest’s durability and makes it flexible enough to stretch if more space is needed. The amount of webbing used per inch of the nest can be up to several miles long!
The female presses herself against the sides when making the cup form until the desired angle is achieved. To increase the density of the fibers to a wool-like material, the female also uses her feathers and body to blend and mesh a tighter nest weave. The end product is a nest of 1.5 to 2 inches in diameter and one inch deep.
Ever aware of the need for predator protection, the final step in nest building is to camouflage the space by adorning the nest with mosses.
This whole process takes about a week to complete.
Blue-throated Hummingbirds usually lay 2 dullish-white oval eggs, and the female will incubate them for roughly 18 days until the immobile and blind chicks are born. The Blue-throated Mountain Gems eggs measure from 0.6 to 0.7 inches in length.
The female Blue-throated Mountain Gem is responsible for all the food collection for the young and will feed the chicks a regurgitated diet of insects, providing the protein they need for growth. She pushes the food directly into their stomachs with her long beak and tongue.
The chicks are born without any down, and the mother will brood them for up to two weeks, and then they are left on their own for much of the day. The young Blue-throated Mountain Gems leave the nest after 26 days, and the mother will brood up to two more times in the same nest that season.
Threats to the Blue-throated Mountain Gem Hummingbird
Threats to the Blue-throated Mountain Gem are solely based on human development and loss of habitat. No significant threats are noted for this species, and their populations are either stable or gradually increasing.
Blue-throated Hummingbird Conservation Status
|IUCN Red List – Least Concern||US Migratory Bird Act – No special status||US Federal List – No special status|
The Blue-throated Mountain Gem Hummingbird conservation status is noted as “Least Concern” for the IUCN Red List, and there is no protection status for them in the US Migratory Bird Act or the US Federal List. For more information about these two organizations, click here. In Mexico, no protection efforts are underway despite consistent habitat loss for many species of birds.
The Blue-throated Mountain Gem has inspired increased observation efforts with more documented sightings in recent years. As a result, their range in the United States has been slowly increasing to more areas of the same states (New Mexico, Arizona, Texas) and increased vagrant (random, rare) sightings in locations of surrounding states (Colorado, Louisiana, California, Alabama).
When attempting to identify a bird species, several things make it easier to tell the difference between hummingbirds. Asking such questions as:
- What color is the throat?
- Is there any striping, streaking, or spotting on the throat?
- Does the head have a sheen or special coloring?
- What color are the underpart and the tail?
- Is this species in the right range at the right time?
The answers to these questions will be more telling when it is a male hummingbird, as the females can be very challenging to identify. If you see hummingbirds at your feeder, the females are probably of the same species as the males that came with them. They attract like species at food sources and will travel in pairs.
Mistaken Identity of the Blue-throated Mountain Gem Hummingbird
This little beauty can easily be mistaken, especially with its temperamental blue throat coloring seen only when it is bright enough.
Which of these pictures shows the Blue-throated Mountain Gem? How can you tell the difference?
Rivoli’s Hummingbird vs. Blue-throated Mountain Gem Hummingbird
The Blue-throated Mountain Gem Hummingbird is easily mistaken for the lustrously colored Rivoli’s Hummingbird. North of Mexico, the Blue-throated Hummingbird, is the largest species, and Rivoli’s Hummingbird is the next largest. They share similar ranges, with Rivoli’s range including more southern countries such as Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.
#Both hummingbird species share the same habitats of mountainous shaded forests near water, and both have a diet that includes a larger percentage of insects than is usual for hummingbirds.
The Rivoli’s Hummingbirds were known as Magnificent Hummingbirds from 1983 until 2017 when the Magnificent Hummingbirds were split into two, and the Rivoli name came back!
The Blue-throated Mountain Gem and Rivoli’s Hummingbird’s overall coloring is somewhat the same, and both can appear drably colored with poor lighting, their shimmering colors undetectable. The female Rivoli’s Hummingbird has dull grayish-white etching at the end of her tail feathers, which is different from the Blue-throated Hummingbird’s wide bright white tail tips.
When there is enough light, you can see that Rivoli’s Hummingbird is much more brilliantly and dramatically colored than the Blue-throated Mountain Gem. A male Rivoli has brightly colored underparts that give off a green and bronze sheen at their best and are very dark in poor light, which is in contrast to the Blue-throated Mountain Gem, which has dingy gray underparts.
Another differentiator is the white dot behind the eye of Rivoli’s Hummingbird compared to the two white slashes above and below the eyes of the Blue-throated Mountain Gem. The whole head of each bird is quite different, with magenta brilliance contrasting dramatically with a dark head on Rivoli’s Hummingbird and the Blue-throated Mountain Gem sporting a heathery brown head.
The real challenge comes when detecting the species of female and juvenile Blue-throated Mountain Gems and Rivoli’s Hummingbirds. They are so similar that only their rump colors will tell you which is which, with Rivoli’s being much more green-hued and the Blue-throated Mountain Gem being a bronzish color.
Photo Challenge Answer
So, did you guess the right picture? The Blue-throated Mountain Gem is in the picture on the right!
Blue-throated Mountain Gem Comparison
Blue-throated Mountain Gem
|Range||The Southwestern United States down to Nicaragua||Mexican mountains, migrating to the southwestern U.S.|
|Habitat||Mountainous regions, forest edges, pastures||Mountainous regions, flower-lined streams|
|Size||4 to 5.5 inches||4 to 6 inches|
|Weight||0.2 to 0.3 ounces||0.25 to 0.38 ounces|
|Wingspan||7 inches||8 inches|
Fast Facts about Hummingbirds
- Hummingbirds can sleep upside down
- Hummingbirds fly the farthest of any bird, up to 4,000 miles a year!
- Hummingbirds need to consume half their weight in nourishment every day because of their high metabolism.
- Hummingbirds eat every 15 minutes and will get nectar from up to 2,000 flowers each day.
- If a hummingbird doesn’t eat for several hours, they risk dying.
- Hummingbirds can recognize different people, according to the Smithsonian Institute.
- These small birds are so vulnerable that a praying mantis can kill them! (Check your feeders regularly)
- A praying mantis can kill and eat these birds; that’s how vulnerable hummingbirds are! If you see a praying mantis hanging out by your hummingbird feeder, gently relocate it to another area!
- Evolution has almost wiped out the hummingbird’s legs and feet, with their bones being hollow and shriveled to perch only – no walking!
- Hummingbirds are named for the sound they produce when rapidly flapping their wings (which is within our human auditory range).
- For all species of hummingbirds, you will only see them in North America, Central America, and South America, and many of them are located in the Andes Mountains in South America. Canada is their northernmost point, and Argentina is their southernmost.
Answer: Short answer is that it means “hummingbirds.” A more enlightening response is that in animal classification, Trochilidae is the name of a “family” belonging to the “order” of Apodiformes. (Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Species). For example, human beings are “Homo” (Genus) and “Sapiens” (Species).
The Blue-throated Hummingbird is in the family Trochilidae, which currently consists of 325 species of hummingbirds, and that number is constantly in flux due to re-classifying existing species and discovering new species.
Answer: Hummingbirds are known for their tiny size and weight (akin to a marshmallow or a penny), a diet of 90% nectar from flowers, having elongated tongues and beaks (sometimes almost the same size as their body length!), and being the only bird that can hover while in flight.
Answer: Relative to their size, they can fly faster than a fighter jet, and Anna’s Hummingbirds can fly 90 feet per second. Hummingbirds fly so fast that when they rise, it is at nine times the rate that gravity would pull them down! Hummingbirds are capable of being exposed to G-force pressures that would cause us to black out! To read more about this, click here.
Answer: Short answer is yes. Due to their brain structure, which is different than other birds, their hippocampus is larger and allows them to remember where every nectar-producing flower is in their territory and when the flower will have more nectar!
Answer: There are 14 species of hummingbirds in North America, some more frequently seen than others. Frequent fliers include Anna’s, Black-Chinned, Calliope, Broad-Tailed, Allen’s, White-eared, and Rufous hummingbirds. The only hummingbird frequently seen in the eastern United States is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.
To learn more about the different hummingbirds of North America, visit the Avian Report.
Answer: Blue-throated Mountain Gems will first seek out the highest sugar content nectar, usually in red, tubular-shaped flowers like Salvia and Honeysuckle. Frequently visited flowers are found on Sage, Agave, Thistle, Hyssop, Bergamot, Cardinal Flower, Trumpet Creeper, and Monkeyflower.
Final Thoughts on the Blue-throated Mountain Gem Hummingbird
I can’t help but admire the quirks of this particular hummingbird, from the aggressive zeal it displays when dominating its territory and protecting its young to the duet sung by both the male and female Blue-throated Mountain Gem during mating season. This intelligent bird remembers people, can imitate another’s song, and knows enough to camouflage its nest with moss!
The only quarrel I have with this bird is that once the male has given the female the “cloacal kiss” several times, he suddenly, and forever, just vanishes to higher ground! It doesn’t seem fair that the female doesn’t even get the vivid blue throat as a consolation prize for her consistent reproductive and rearing efforts! What do you think?
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