Published by the Smithsonian Institution between the 1920s and the 1950s, the Bent life history series of monographs provide an often colorful description of the birds of North America. Arthur Cleveland Bent was the lead author for the series. The Bent series is a great resource and often includes quotes from early American Ornithologists, including Audubon, Townsend, Wilson, Sutton and many others.
Bent Life History for the Lucifer Hummingbird - the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.
CALOTRORAX LUCIFER (Swainson)
This brilliant little hummer, with its deeply forked gorget of a vivid violet-purple, changing to reddish purple or blue in different lights, is only rarely found across our southwestern border in Arizona and western Texas. Its main range is on the tablelands of Mexico as far south as the City of Mexico, Puebla, and Chiapas. It was first added to our fauna by Henry W. Henshaw (1875), who took a female near Camp Bowie, Ariz., on August 8. 1874, and doubtfully recorded it as Doricha enicura; it was later determined to be a lucifer hummingbird. Some years later, in 1901, it was taken in the Chisos Mountains in western Texas by a Biological Survey party. It is apparently fairly common in these mountains, for Mrs. Bailey (1902) says that Mr. Bailey found it "with several other species common in June about the big agaves, which were then in full flower." Still later, Van Tyne and Sutton (1937) report the capture of two specimens in this region but say that the nest has not yet been found there. The lucifer hummingbird may be commoner along our southwestern border than is generally known, for it somewhat resembles Costa's hummingbird in size and color and might easily be overlooked.
Nesting: Comparatively few nests of the lucifer hummingbird have been found. Win. Bullock (1825), in his "Six Months in Mexico," gives us the first account of it: "They breed in Mexico in June and July; and the nest is a beautiful specimen of the architectural talen of these birds: it is neatly constructed with cotton, or the down of thistles, to which is fastened on the outside, by some glutinous substance, a white flat lichen resembling ours."
W. W. Brown collected four nests of this species in Tamaulipas, Mexico, between June 15 and July 4, 1924. Three of these are now in the Thayer collection in Cambridge, and one is in the Doe collection in Gainesville, Fla. All the nests were built in shrubs and only a few feet above ground; one was recorded as 4 and one 6 feet up. The nests were made of soft vegetable fibers and down, mixed with the scales of buds, blossoms or seeds, and bits of lichen, all completely covered and held in place with cobwebs or very fine fibers.
Eggs: The lucifer hummingbird lays the usual hummingbird set of two eggs, which are indistinguishable from the eggs of other hummingbirds of similar size. The measurements of 6 eggs average 12.7 by 9.7 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 13.8 by 10.0, 12.4 by 10.1, and 12.0 by 9.2 millimeters.
Plumages: Not much seems to be known about the immature plumages of this species, but the sexes are apparently alike in juvenal plumages and resemble the adult female, though a little grayer on the under parts. One young male, collected September 15, has one violet-purple feather on its throat, indicating an approach to the adult plumage during the fall and winter. I have seen adults of both sexes molting from September to December, during which time the complete annual molt probably occurs.
Food: We have no definite data on the food of this species, which probably does not differ materially from that of other hummingbirds. It is said to be devoted to the flower clusters of the tall flowering agave, where it finds a bountiful supply of nectar, as well as numerous small insects and spiders.
Mr. Bullock (1825) gives the following interesting account of its spider hunting:
The house I resided in at Xalapa for several weeks was only one story high, enclosing, like most of the Spanish houses, a small garden in the centre, the roof projecting six or seven feet from the walls, covering a walk all round, and leaving a small space only between the tiles, and the trees which grew in the centre. From the edges of these tiles to the branches of the trees in the garden, the spiders had spread their innumerable webs so closely and compactly that they resembled a act. I have frequently watched with much amusement the cautious peregrination of the humming bird, who, advancing beneath the web, entered the various labyrinths and cells in search of entangled flies, but as the larger spiders did not tamely surrender their booty, the invader was often compelled to retreat; being within a few feet, I could observe nil their evolutions with great precision. The active little bird generally passed once or twice round the court, as if to reconnoiter his ground, and commenced his attack by going carefully under the nets of the wily insect, and seizing by surprise the smallest entangled flies, or those that were most feeble. In ascending the angular traps of the spider great care and skill was required; sometimes he had scarcely room for his little wings to perform their office, and the least deviation would have entangled him in the complex machinery of the web, and involved him in ruin. It was only the works of the smaller spider that he durst attack, as the larger sort rose to the defense of their citadels, when the besieger would shoot off like a sunbeam, and could only be traced by the luminous glow of his refulgent colors. The bird generally spent about ten minutes in this predatory excursion, and then alighted on a branch of the Avocata to rest and refresh himself, placing his crimson star-like breast to the sun, which then presented all the glowing fire of the ruby and surpassing in lustre the diadem of monarchs.
Behavior: The same observer writes:
When attending their young, they attack any bird indiscriminately that approaches the nest. Their motions, when under the influence of anger or fear, are very violent, and their flight rapid as an arrow; the eye cannot follow them, but the shrill, piercing shriek which they utter on the wing may he heard when the bird is invisible. They attack the eyes of the larger birds, and their sharp, needle-like bill is a truly formidable weapon in this kind of warfare. Nothing can exceed their fierceness when one of their own species invades their territory during the breeding season. Under the influence of jealousy they become perfect furies; their throats swell, their crests, tails, and wings expand; they fight In the air (uttering a shrill noise) till one falls exhausted to the ground. I witnessed a combat of this kind near Otumba, during a heavy fall of rain, every separate drop of which I supposed sufficient to have beaten the puny warriors to the earth.
Field marks: The lucifer hummingbird might be mistaken, by the casual observer, for Costa's hummingbird, as the two are somewhat alike in size and in the shape and color of the gorget, but there are decided differences in shape and color pattern. In Costa's the entire top of the head is of the same brilliant violet-purple as the gorget, whereas in the lucifer hummer only the throat gorget, with its elongated lateral extension is of this brilliant color. Furthermore, the male lucifer has a deeply forked tail, with very narrow lateral feathers. The female lucifer has a rounded, or double rounded, tail and buffy under parts. But the best field mark for both sexes is the long, decidedly decurved bill; no other North American humming. bird has such a curved bill.
Range: Southern Mexico; accidental in Arizona and Texas.
The normal range of the lucifer hummingbird is from Jalisco (Bolanos) south to Guerrero (Taxco and Chilpancingo) and east to Puebla (Chaichicomula).
Casual Records: A specimen was collected in the Chisos Mountains, Texas, on June 7, 1901; and an adult female was taken at Fort Bowie, Ariz., on August 8, 1874.
Egg dates: Mexico: 6 records, June 15 to July 4.
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