- Buff-bellied Hummingbird Guide - November 12, 2022
- Broad-billed Hummingbird Guide (Cynanthus latirostris) - November 8, 2022
- Red-naped Sapsucker Guide (Sphyrapicus nuchalis) - November 1, 2022
Any time I am out on a bird-watching hike, or even when I am just sitting in my backyard on a sunny afternoon, I am entranced when I spot a hummingbird. These tiny creatures hardly seem real, zipping about in fast flight or hovering at a flower or feeder. When watching one, I feel like I am seeing an optical illusion–they look and behave like little robotic drones… they are truly a sight to behold. There are over 300 species of hummingbirds in the Americas, and about fifteen species reside in some parts of the United States. Of these, the Broad-billed Hummingbird, with its shiny emerald-green coloring and bright red bill, is one of the most striking (in my humble opinion!).
The Broad-billed hummingbird, so named because of the broadness of its bill (at least relative to other hummingbirds) has the species name Cynanthus latirostris. The name latirostris is based on Latin words for “broad” (latus) and “billed” (rostris), so the common name of Broad-billed Hummingbird is not much of a creative leap. This species was first identified by noted ornithologist William Swainson in 1827, after studying specimens that had been collected in Mexico.
There are three subspecies of Broad-billed Hummingbird that are now recognized, differentiated mostly by the geographic regions where they are found. They are:
- Cynanthus latirostris latirostris – This subspecies resides in the eastern regions of Mexico
- Cynanthus latirostris magicus – This subspecies is found in the northwestern areas of Mexico, and up into the southwestern parts of the United States
- Cynanthus latirostris propinquus– This subspecies lives in central Mexico
Taxonomy at a Glance
- Domain: Eukaryota
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Aves
- Order: Apodiformes
- Family: Trochilidae
- Genus: Cynanthus
- Species: Cynanthus latirostris
- Cynanthus latirostris latirostris
- Cynanthus latirostris magicus
- Cynanthus latirostris propinquus
Broad-billed Hummingbirds are in the small-to-medium size range relative to other hummingbirds. They are three to four inches in length (with males being slightly larger than females). Their wingspan is about five inches. They weigh anywhere from one-tenth to one-eighth of an ounce (about the same weight as a penny!).
Broad-billed Hummingbirds are sexually dimorphic, meaning the males and females are different in appearance. The primary color for males is shiny metallic emerald green on their backs, bellies, wings, and the tops of their heads. Their wings are dark gray, and their tails are blue-black and forked slightly. The male Broad-billed Hummingbirds have a beautiful blue coloring on their throats, sometimes extending down their front side. Their legs and feet are black. Most distinctively, the male Broad-billed Hummingbird has a bright red bill, which is black on the end, as if it had dipped the tip of its bill in ink.
Female Broad-billed Hummingbirds are quite different in appearance. In addition to being a bit smaller than their male counterparts, the females have a different color scheme. They have a greenish color on their back, with a slight bronze tone mixed in. Their throats are a dingy gray, as are their bellies and undersides. The bill of the female Broad-billed Hummingbird is much darker than that of the male–sometimes more black than red. Also, the females have a white line extending back from each eye, and a dark gray patch below each eye.
Juvenile Broad-billed Hummingbirds resemble adult females in coloring. As they mature, the males will develop a brighter green coat, a blue throat coloring, and a bright red bill.
As is the case with many hummingbirds, the wings of the Broad-billed Hummingbird move so rapidly, they create a whirring sound when the bird is in flight. The call of the Broad-billed Hummingbird is a raspy chatter, a repeated chit-chit-chit sound. Males especially may make this call when they are trying to attract a female, or when they are defending their territories from other male hummingbirds.
Like other hummingbirds, Broad-billed Hummingbirds can fly in any direction–forward, backward, up, down… you name it, and these little creatures can do it. When feeding, they may hover in place as they collect nectar or snatch bugs from the surface of a plant. In the air, they zip from plant to plant or dart about to catch insects in mid-flight. The acrobatic flight patterns of hummingbirds are truly unlike those of any other birds in the wild!
Where Does the Broad-billed Hummingbird Live: Habitat
Geographically, the majority of Broad-billed Hummingbirds reside in Mexico, but a few make it as far north as the southwestern United States (primarily the southeastern corner of Arizona and the southwestern corner of New Mexico). Strays have been seen westward into southern California, and eastward into Texas and Louisiana. However, most Broad-billed Hummingbirds are found in the central regions of Mexico. Many of these birds reside in their locales year-round, while some migrate north into the southwestern United States and northern Mexico for breeding. For the birds that migrate, they typically head north to their breeding areas in March and then return south in November. The movement and migration of these birds often coincide with the blooming of the flowers from which they obtain their favorite food, nectar.
In their geographies, Broad-billed hummingbirds are likely to be found in somewhat dry areas–canyons, ravines, brushland, and foothills. They also favor woodland areas near streams or bodies of water. Those birds living in Mexico may also be found in more tropical climes. Broad-billed hummingbirds will also happily hang out in gardens or backyards in residential areas as well. Trees that Broad-billed Hummingbirds seem to favor in their habitats include oaks, sycamores, cottonwoods, and mesquites.
Broad-billed Hummingbird Diet and Feeding
Primary Food Source: Nectar
Like other hummingbirds, the Broad-billed Hummingbird’s diet is made up largely of nectar that it collects from flowers. Broad-billed Hummingbirds seem to favor red, orange, and yellow flowers as sources of nectar. Some common flower types that are sought out by Broad-billed Hummingbirds include honeysuckle, agave, Indian paintbrush, milkweed, coral bean, and ocotillo. Their migration and breeding patterns coincide with the optimal blooming times for the plants from which they collect nectar. They also typically do more collection in the morning and again in the late afternoon, which are the times when flowers tend to yield the most nectar.
Because hummingbirds have such a high metabolism and are constantly on the move, they spend a lot of their time and energy feeding. They will dart about their feeding territory, visiting flowers on their route to collect food, and even remembering which flowers they have visited already. Broad-billed Hummingbirds may feed as many as five to ten times per hour, and they eat over one-and-a-half times their body weight in nectar every day! They will also aggressively defend their feeding sites if they find other hummingbirds trying to encroach on their food sources.
Nectar from plants isn’t the only sugary snack they like–Broad-billed Hummingbirds will happily visit hummingbird feeders that they find in their area. Hummingbird feeders stocked with a sweet mix of sugar and water provide a suitable substitute for nectar, and if a hummingbird finds one, they may visit it multiple times during the day, making use of this easy source of calories.
Other Food: Proteins
Broad-billed Hummingbirds also round out their diet with protein, in the form of insects they catch. With their speed and maneuverability, hummingbirds can readily catch flying insects in mid-air. They may also pluck (or glean) them from the surfaces of plants when they spy them crawling about. Typically, they seek out small insects like aphids, mayflies, gnats, or plant lice. For a heartier dining course, some Broad-billed Hummingbirds have even been known to make a meal out of a wasp or small spider.
Broad-billed Hummingbird Breeding
The breeding season for migrating Broad-billed hummingbirds in Mexico is typically January to May, while in the United States it is a bit later, from April to August. These differences are due to the blooming patterns of the flowers from which the Broad-billed Hummingbirds collect nectar–they are timed so that food sources are most plentiful when the young are developing and maturing. Broad-billed Hummingbirds that do not migrate have a long breeding season, extending from January to August. For breeding territories, Broad-billed Hummingbirds typically use open swaths of land.
Territories and Courtship
The breeding process begins with male Broad-billed Hummingbirds establishing their breeding territories, and then vigorously defending this turf from other males. They do this by perching on a high branch in their territory, calling, and chasing away any other males who they see encroaching on their area. Males will even spar with each other, clawing, bumping, and even wielding their long bills like small swords. Males watching over their turf will even chase away large bugs like moths or bumblebees. They want no competition for the attention of possible female partners in the area. Some unlucky males are unable to establish their own territories, and instead have to roam around, making it a bit tougher to find a mate.
When a male Broad-billed Hummingbird is on the lookout for a mate, he will perch in his territory and call out, hoping to attract nearby females. Once he spies a potential mate, he will fly to her and hover about a foot in front of her. He then does a courtship display in which he flies back and forth in front of her, in a pendulum-like arc. This motion is similar to that of a hypnotist’s swinging watch–perhaps the male Broad-billed Hummingbird is trying to hypnotize the female with his moves! Sometimes, the male will also fly up and then dive at or chase the female to further impress her. If the courtship is successful, the pair will mate. Afterward, there is no time for additional romance–the male takes off in search of another mate, leaving the female with all of the work of building a nest, laying and hatching the eggs, and raising the hatchlings alone!
Broad-billed Hummingbird Nesting
Female Broad-billed Hummingbirds take on the task of nest-building all by themselves. For a nest location, they typically look for a hanging or drooping branch of a tree or shrub, often near a stream. Broad-billed Hummingbirds typically build their nests from two to ten feet off the ground, often in a fork in the branch. The female will weave together bits of bark, grass, leaves, and other plant bits, forming a small cup-like nest that she shapes with her body. The inside of the nest is lined with plant down, spiderwebs, and lichen. The outside of the nest is often coated with plant bits to camouflage it from would-be predators. The resulting nest is a small cup, one inch tall and about 3/4 of an inch in diameter at the rim. To a casual observer, these completed nests may resemble a small clump of debris caught in the fork of the branch.
Broad-billed Hummingbird Eggs
Once the nest is completed, the female Broad-billed Hummingbird is ready to lay her eggs. She may lay one to three eggs, but the usual number of eggs is two. Broad-billed Hummingbird eggs are smooth, white elongated ovals, about twelve millimeters long. As with the nest-building, the female is also on her own when it comes to incubating and hatching the eggs, and caring for the hatchlings.
The female will spend the next two to three weeks incubating the eggs. During this time she spends most of her time in the nest, only occasionally leaving to get food. After two to three weeks, the eggs begin to hatch, and the hatchlings emerge. Upon first hatching, baby Broad-billed Hummingbirds are helpless–they are small and brown, with a small amount of down on their bodies. At this point, the mother will feed the young hatchlings, leaving to collect food in the form of nectar and insects. Returning to the nest, the mother will stick her long bill down the throats of her hatchlings and regurgitate the needed food for them to eat.
Over time the hatchlings will grow and mature, and once they can leave the nest they are independent, on their own to find food and learn how to survive outside the nest, without the care of their mother.
Broad-billed Hummingbird Population
The total global breeding population of Broad-billed Hummingbirds is estimated to be about 2.2 million by Partners In Flight. Of this number, about 200,000 Broad-billed Hummingbirds are estimated to live in the United States. The species has a Continental Concern Score of 10 out of 20, which indicates a low level of concern for their conservation and endangerment at this time. Population trends are not known for sure, but are thought to be relatively stable or possibly even growing.
Is the Broad-billed Hummingbird Endangered?
Given the size of the global population and the relatively large range over which the species is found, the Broad-billed Hummingbird is not considered to be endangered. Like hundreds of other bird species, they are protected by the US Migratory Bird Act and cannot be hunted or killed. However, this was not always the case historically.
In the 1800s, hummingbirds in the Americas were caught and killed and sent to England where they were a highly sought-after decorative item. Their bright, iridescent plumage made them very popular as stuffed and mounted decorative pieces in the home. They were even used as decorations on women’s hats. Hundreds of thousands of hummingbirds were killed and used in this way every year, but thankfully this is no longer the case.
However, other risks are faced by Broad-bellied Hummingbirds. Like all bird species, they are affected by the changing climate–hotter temperatures increase the occurrence of drought and wildfires, which can negatively impact their habitat and food sources. Higher temperatures can also endanger the babies while they are in their eggs or nest. Ironically though, rising temperatures may somewhat expand the range over which the Broad-billed Hummingbirds live, which may be another reason why they are considered of least concern for conservation at this time.
Broad-billed Hummingbird Habits
Broad-billed Hummingbirds have a lot of interesting habits and behaviors that make them a very fun species of bird to learn about and observe.
Broad-billed Hummingbirds exhibit a feeding strategy, also employed by other species, called trap-lining. This behavior involves traveling to and checking on food sources on a regular, repeatable route, much in the way a trapper visits their line of traps (thus the name trap-lining). A Broad-billed Hummingbird will visit multiple flower locations along a regular route several times a day, checking on them, collecting nectar, and fending off any intruders that might be trying to take food from the same sources. In addition to collecting food, the trap-lining behavior results in the Broad-billed Hummingbirds pollinating the plants they visit, helping those plants to reproduce and thrive. This behavior seems to suggest that Broad-billed Hummingbirds have spatial recognition and memory, remembering which plants they visit and even adjusting their routes depending on the nectar yields of various flowers on their routes.
Like many other hummingbird species (and even other animal species), Broad-billed Hummingbirds can enter a biological state called torpor. In this state, they slow down their bodily functions, conserving energy and lowering metabolism when temperatures are colder, or when food is scarce. When in a state of torpor, their body temperature drops from over 100 degrees Fahrenheit to whatever the ambient temperature is, as low as 60 degrees. Their pulse drops to less than ten percent of its usual rate. A hummingbird in this state of torpor will appear lifeless at first glance, and it may even stop breathing for a short period. However, this behavior helps them to survive when the environment or food collection is a challenge.
When it is ready to wake up from this state, a hummingbird will begin to shiver its wings–this activity uses its flight muscles, causing them to warm up. This in turn heats the blood contained in them, which then circulates through the rest of the hummingbird’s body, heating it and bringing its body temperature back to its normal level.
Another habit that Broad-billed Hummingbirds share with other hummingbird species is their amazing flying ability. Hummingbirds can fly in any direction, or even hover in place. They can do this because of their amazing wings and flight muscles. Unlike other birds, hummingbirds can rotate their wings so that the top of the wing is the leading edge no matter what direction the wing is going in, forward or backward. As a result, the wings generate lift on both the forward and backward strokes, allowing the hummingbird to hover in place.
In addition to this ability, hummingbirds have extremely strong flight muscles. Their pectoral and flight muscles make up almost a third of their entire body weight. Additionally, their little wings work very fast–beating over sixty times per second! All of this combines to give the hummingbird a level of flight maneuverability that is unmatched in the avian world!
Broad-billed Hummingbird Predators
Now that hummingbirds are no longer killed and used as decorations by humans (thank goodness!), the biggest predators that Broad-billed Hummingbirds must look out for in the wild are other natural predators. One common type of predator of hummingbirds is cats, both domestic and feral. They are more than happy to try to catch a hummingbird that lets its guard down while feeding or perching.
Reptiles are another threat to Broad-billed Hummingbirds. Snakes are more than happy to make a meal of a hummingbird if they can catch it. Snakes may also climb trees and pose a threat to the young hummingbirds in the nest.
Lastly, since hummingbirds are among the smallest of birds, they have to be on the lookout for other larger birds who might see them as a quick snack. Hawks commonly prey on smaller birds, although the Broad-billed Hummingbird’s tiny size and maneuverability make it tough to catch, and possibly not worth the effort. However, other birds like owls, blue jays, and kestrels might be more inclined to hunt Broad-billed Hummingbirds.
While not a predator, the Cinnamon Hummingbird (another hummingbird species) does compete with the Broad-billed Hummingbird for food resources in the areas where the species overlap in Mexico. When this happens, the Broad-billed Hummingbirds seem to lose this battle over nectar resources and end up feeding on flowers that give lower yields of nectar. This competition makes it harder for the Broad-billed Hummingbirds in these areas to thrive.
Broad-billed Hummingbird Lifespan
The oldest documented Broad-billed Hummingbird was just over nine years old when it was recaptured during banding efforts in Arizona after having been previously captured and banded. However, the average lifespan for Broad-billed Hummingbirds is lower, likely around six years in the wild.
Answer: Broad-billed Hummingbirds will readily visit a backyard hummingbird feeder. If you have Broad-billed Hummingbirds in your area, you can start by choosing a hummingbird feeder that has bright red and yellow coloring on it. Broad-billed Hummingbirds are particularly attracted to these colors, as seen by the types of flowers they most frequently visit for nectar. Next, fill the feeder with a sugar solution–if you make it yourself, mix one part white sugar with four parts warm water, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved. Do not use brown sugar or organic sugar–these may contain iron, which is not good for hummingbirds. Also, there is no need to add red food coloring to the water–red colors on the feeder itself are enough to get the Broad-billed Hummingbird’s attention. Then, just sit back and watch for the little visitors to arrive, particularly in the morning, or later in the afternoon and into the evening.
Answer: Broad-billed Hummingbirds (and most hummingbirds) are quite solitary and territorial, so you may not often see them congregating in large groups, However, the names for groups of hummingbirds are very poetic and apt. I don’t know who came up with these terms, but they seemed to have a lot of fun doing it! So, without further ado, the terms used to describe a group of hummingbirds include (but are not limited to) the following:
• A charm of hummingbirds
• A glittering of hummingbirds
• A shimmer of hummingbirds
• A bouquet of hummingbirds
• A hover of hummingbirds
Answer: The Broad-billed Hummingbird’s geographical range does overlap with quite a few other species of hummingbird. A couple of other species that are somewhat similar in appearance are listed below, along with how you can tell them apart from their Broad-billed relatives:
• White-eared Hummingbird – At first glance, these birds may appear similar to Broad-billed Hummingbirds. However, the male White-eared Hummingbirds have a prominent white ear stripe (thus their name!), that the Broad-billed Hummingbirds do not have. The males also have a darker blue on their faces (above their bills as well as below) and have more white on their bellies than the Broad-billed males have. Female White-eared Hummingbirds have whiter breasts and bellies with some green spots, compared to the dingy gray breast and belly of the female Broad-billed Hummingbird. Female White-eared Hummingbirds also have much darker patches on the sides of their faces, below their eyes.
• Blue-throated Mountain Gem – These hummingbirds are larger than their Broad-billed cousins, about five inches long (compared to four inches or less for the Broad-billed Hummingbirds). Another tell–the male Blue-throated Mountain Gem has a black bill, rather than red. Their bellies are also white as opposed to the green and blue of the Broad-billed Hummingbird. Females are also larger than the Broad-billed Hummingbirds, and have blacker tail feathers, with a less prominent fork in the middle, and more white edging.
- Peterson, Roger Tory. (2010). Peterson Field Guide to Birds of Western North America (4th Edition). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
- Sibley, David Allen. (2020). What It’s Like to be a Bird. Alfred A. Knopf (a division of Penguin Random House LLC).
- All About Birds
- American Bird Conservancy
- Animal Diversity Web
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