The nest of the Allen’s Hummingbird is built by the female, and takes about 2 weeks to complete. Spider webs are one of the most important nest materials, and the female hummingbird flies backwards and forwards at the nest site to scrape the collected strands of web off of her bill. She then uses the tip of her bill to move the sticky webs into place.
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Description of the Allen’s Hummingbird
The Allen’s Hummingbird has a green back, with reddish-orange at the base of the tail, and a buffy to orange belly.
– Rump and nape with highly variable amounts of orange.
– Reddish gorget.
– Females ave minimal reddish in gorget.
– Mostly green head, back, and rump.
Seasonal change in appearance
Juveniles are pale buffy below and lack red in the gorget.
Wooded areas, parks, and gardens.
Nectar and insects.
Allen’s Hummingbirds hover to drink nectar from flowers or hummingbird feeders.
Allen’s Hummingbirds breed in California and Oregon, and winter over a larger area of California, Arizona, and Mexico.
Visit the Bent Life History for extensive additional information on the American Goldfinch
Spring migration for Allen’s Hummingbirds is very early, typically January through March.
Adult male Allen’s Hummingbirds may begin their “fall” migration as early as late May.
Chip note calls are made, and males can create a buzzing sound in flight due to air movement over their wings.
Allen’s Hummingbirds can be attracted with flowering plants and hummingbird feeders.
Rufous Hummingbird – female
The female Rufous Hummingbird is virtually identically to the female Allen’s Hummingbird. Almost impossible to distinguish the two species in the field.
Rufous Hummingbird – male
The male Rufous Hummingbird has a rufous back and crown. Some Rufous Hummingbirds have green flecks on the back.
The Allen’s Hummingbird’s nest is a cup of mosses and other fibers and is lined with finer materials. The outside is covered with lichens. It is placed on a low branch.
Incubation and fledging:
– Young hatch at about 17-22 days.
– Young fledge (leave the nest) at about 22-25 days, but associate with the female for some time.
Bent Life History of the Allen’s Hummingbird
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 Allen’s Hummingbird – the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.
SELASPHORUS ALLENI Henshaw
This is another very brilliant hummingbird, which is closely related to the rufous hummingbird, and much like it in appearance and behavior. It seems to be confined, in the breeding season at least, to the coastal district of California, from Humboldt County to Ventura County and the Santa Barbara Islands. It may possibly be found breeding in Oregon, and there are two authentic records of its occurrence in Washington. There was formerly a specimen in the United States National Museum, which has since been destroyed, that was collected at Fort Steilacoom, on April 26, 1856, and was identified by both Henshaw and Ridgway. S. F. Rathbun collected an adult male near Seattle on May 27, 1894, which is apparently the only Washington specimen in existence; he tells me that this specimen is now in the State Museum, at the University of Washington, in Seattle. Dr. Tracy I. Storer (1921) has made a careful study of all other records north of California and reports that no others are authentic.
Courtship: Robert S. Woods (1927b) says on this subject: “Allen’s Hummingbird flies rather slowly back and forth along a path such as would be described by a giant pendulum, with a sort of lateral writhing movement of the body and extended tail and a vibratory metallic noise, but without vocal sound. Again it will poise itself close in front of another bird and rapidly shuttle to and fro sidewise through a space of perhaps a foot or two.”
Frank N. Bassett (1921) gives a somewhat different and more elaborate account of it, as follows:
On the afternoon of April 16, 1920, I was walking through the hills back of the Claremont Club golf links when I was brought to a halt by a rather prolonged buzzing sound, very penetrating and metallic in quality, somewhat similar to the sound produced by drawing a fine-grained file over the edge of a piece of sheet steel with a sudden jerk. Looking in the direction of the sound I saw poised in the air about twenty feet from the ground, a male Allen Hummingbird (Selasphorus alleni), uttering his commonly heard mouse-like squeaks. Then followed the performance of the nuptial flight, similar to that of the Anna Hummingbird, though the path described in the air was somewhat different. He “rocked” back and forth over the female, which was perched on a twig of a low poison oak (Rhus diversiloba), describing a semi-circle about twenty-five feet In diameter. There was a pause at each end of the arc, and before the pause he spread his tall and shook his whole body so violently that I wondered how his feathers remained fast. During this time he continued uttering the characteristic squeaks. After several of these semicircles were described he began his climb to a height of about seventy-five feet; and then came the “high dive.” He swooped down with tile speed of a comet, and on passing over the female gave the low-pitched but resonant buzzing sound which had first attracted my attention; then he curved upward and came to a pause about twenty-five feet in the air, where I had first seen him. The sound emitted on passing over the female was of a second or more in duration, and differed greatly from the instantaneous, metallic clinic of the Anna Hummingbird.
Nesting: Charles A. Allen, of Nicasio, Calif. who discovered this species, and for whom it was named, wrote to Major Bendire (1895) as follows:
Allen’s Hummingbird arrives in the vicinity of Nicaslo, California, about the middle of February, and commences to nest soon after arrival. The earliest date on which I found one was February 27, 1870; this was then about half finished, when a heavy storm set in which lasted about five days, and I did not visit the locality again until March 8, when the nest was completed and contained two fresh eggs. I have taken their nests as late as July 3, and am well convinced that two broods are raised in a season, at least by all of the earlier breeding birds. They select all sorts of situations and various kinds of trees and bushes to nest in. I have found their nests as low as 10 inches and again as high as 90 feet from the ground.
All the nests end eggs of this species [continues Bendire] in the United States National Museum were taken by Mr. Allen near Nicasie, California; one of these, now before me, is attached to the side of a small oak limb which turns abruptly at an angle of about 450 directly over the cap of the nest, protecting it above; another is likewise attached to the side of a small pendant oak twig, its base being supported by a hunch of moss. Some are securely saddled on small twigs of raspberry bushes, and several of these are usually incorporated in the walls of the nest. Occasionally they nest in hedges, on weed stalks, or on bushes overhanging water.
The nests are well and compactly built, the inside being lined with vegetable down, while the outer walls are enclosed of green tree mosses, and a few bits of lichens, securely fastened in place with a spider web. Nests built on trees seem to lie generally somewhat larger than those found in bushes. The average measurements of one of the former is 1 1/2 inches outer diameter and the same in depth the inner Cap is seven-eighths of an inch in width by three fourths of an inch in depth. On the whole they resemble the nests of Anna’s Hummingbird more than those of the Rufous, and appear to me to be better and more neatly built than either.
James B. Dixon has sent ate the following note: “The only place where I have contacted this hummingbird in the breeding season was in San Luis Obispo County. in the dense willow montes where they were nesting in large numbers and were as common as the blackchinned hummingbirds are further south. Here the nests were often found within 50 feet of each other. As with all the other hummingbirds. there seemed to be a wide variation in the breeding season, as nests with young half grown would be foung close to nests with fresh eggs. The nests are larger and better built than those of most other hummingbirds. They have a habit of sattling the nests on a small limb growing away from the butt or main stem of a willow sapling, in much the same manner as the wood pewee; I have never found the other hummingbirds doing this. Nests are made of dried weed stems, weed seed, and plant down, bound together with cob webs, and decorated outwardly with lichens; they do more toward decorating the outside with lichens as incubation advances.”
Dr. Harold C. Bryant (1925) gives an interesting account of the colonial nesting habits of this species:
Heretofore I had believed along with others * * * that the favorite nesting place of the Allen Hummingbird (Selasphorus alleni) is the tangle of berry vines along a stream. But a recent experience in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, has led me to alter my view. * *
On April 19, a trip through a growth of cypress and Monterey pines netted eleven hummingbirds’ nests, all, with the possible exception of one, being those of the Allen Hummingbird. Three of the nests found were in pine trees; all the rest of them were in Monterey cypress. The lowest one was about 5 1/2 feet above the ground, the highest 15 feet. Measurement of the inside diameter of two nests showed them to be 1 1/4 to 11/2 inches. Most of the nests contained eggs, but in one instance young birds ready to fly were found. In fact, one of the young birds launched out of the nest and had to be replaced. At least two nests were incomplete. One of these a week later was found to contain eggs.
In most instances the incubating female, frightened from the nest, helped in determining the location. On one area of less than an acre in extent, an unsystematic search disclosed five nests. In one instance nests were hardly 15 feet apart. Another casual search on April 26 disclosed three mere nests on this same limited area, and undoubtedly several more nests could have been found had each tree been searched systematically. * * *
When we stop to think that the Rufous Hummingbird, a close relative, breeds commonly in coniferous forests of northwestern North America, it does not seem unreasonable that the Allen should chose a similar habitat in the humid coast belt of Califurnia. And evidently it was choice in this instance, for extensive tangles of berry vines near water were close at hand but were not chosen for nesting places.
Grinnell and Linsdalc (1936) report two nests found in the Point Lobos Reserve, Monterey County, Calif.; one “found on April 18, was four and one-half feet up on a, twig one-eighth inch in diameter, at the lower, outer end of a limb of live oak. * * * Another nest, found on May 18, was at least seventy feet above the ground on a small stub beneath a slender limb of pine in the woods.”
Ernest D. Clabaugh (1936) tells of an Allen’s hummingbird that built its nest on an ivy vine hanging down about 6 inches from the ceiling of a covered entrance to his house; one young was successfully raised and left the nest on May 11; “the old nest was removed, and on June 4, another nest was built in the same spot.” Joseph Mailliard (1913) records three nests built “inside of buildings more or less in use”; two of these were under the rafters of a wagon shed, one on a hanging pulley, and the other on the loop of a rope sling; the third was in a carriage house, on an iron heck that was used in cleaning harnesses, and about 5 feet from the ground; broods were raised in the first two, but the third was abandoned.
W. L. Dawson (1923) writes: “As for the Allen Hummer the blackberry tangles are her home, and all such other situations as assure a measure of protection from above. Thus, drooping vines falling over boulders offer ideal sites; for alleni is also fond of a swing. The most remarkable nest of our experience, a ftve-story one, was saddled upon the hook of a broken root, which was, in turn, caught upon a sprangle of roots above, unearthed by the under-cutting of the stream. This root could be lifted clear and replaced without injury; and its mistress added, in one season, stories No. 4 and No. 5, to our knowledge.”
Two of the four nests of Allen’s hummingbird in the Thayer collection in Cambridge are large handsome nests, suggesting the best types of nests of the rufous hummingbird. One of these was 8 feet from the ground and 20 feet out from the trunk on a branch of a spruce; it is composed of fine green moss, decorated with flakes of pale-gray lichens, bound on with spider web, and lined with willow cotton; it measures approximately 2 inches wide and 1 inch high externally; the inner cup is about 1 inch in diameter by five-eighths of an inch deep. The other large nest was built on a branch of a young live oak between upright twigs; it measures about 2 inches in diameter and 11/2 inches in height externally; it appears to be made almost entirely, including all the rim, of the pale buff cottony down from willow blossoms; only the lower and external part of the nest is composed of green mosses and various brown fibers; it is a very pretty nest. The smallest nest in the lot was 2 feet from the ground in a shallow bend of a horizontal branch of a sagebrush; it measures 13/4 by 11/4 inches in external diameter, and is only three quarters of an inch high, the inner cavity being very shallow; this is a very drab-looking nest, with no green moss in its composition; it is made of various gray and brown fibers and similar material, with very little cotton and a few small feathers in the lining; apparently it matched its surroundings in the gray sage.
Since the above was written Ernest I. Dyer (1939) has published a detailed account of the nesting of Allen’s hummingbird, to which the reader is referred.
Eggs: Allen’s hummingbird lays almost invariably two eggs; J have no record of more or fewer. They are like other hummers’ eggs, varying in shape from oval to elliptical-oval, and are pure white without gloss. The measurements of 55 eggs average 12.7 by 8.~ millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 14.0 by 8.9, 13.8 by 10.0, and 11.7 by 7.6 millimeters.
Young: The incubation period of this hummingbird is said to be 14 or 15 days, as is the case with several other hummingbirds. The female doubtless does all the incubating and assumes full care of the young. After describing so fully the home life of the preceding species, to which the present species is so closely related, it hardly seems necessary to enlarge here on the activities of the mother at the nest or on the development of the young. The rufous hummingbird and Allen’s are much alike in appearance and behavior; their nesting habits are similar; and probably, although I have no notes on the subject, the care and development of the young follow along the Same lines.
Since the above was written, Robert T. Orr (1939) has published a very full account of the incubation behavior and the care and development of the young, to which the reader is referred.
Plumages: So far as I can learn from the literature and from the examination of specimens, the development of the juvenal plumage of Allen’s hummingbird and its subsequent molts and plumages are the same as in the rufous hummingbird. The two species are almost exactly alike, except for the specific differences explained under the field marks of the two, the very narrow lateral rectrices and the greater amount of green in Allen’s being the principal differences. Young male Allen’s hummers begin to show red in the throat early in July. J have seen a young male, taken on June 1, that was molting into the adult plumage, some red coming in on the throat, and some of the outer rectrices still white-tipped, as in the juvenal tail, probably a belated molt.
Food: I cannot find much in print about the food of Allen’s hummingbird, which probably does not differ materially from that of other California hummers. Whatever brightly colored flowers happen to be in bloom are resorted to for honey and minute insects and spiders. That they are of service to the plants in cross fertilization is evident from the amount of pollen so often seen on their heads. The tree tobacco is popular with this hummingbird, as are the blossoms of Ceanothus, madrofia, and the flowering stalks of the century plant; the scarlet sage, brightly colored mints, and various other flowers are attractive. Dr. Grinnell (1905b) says that, on Mount Pinos, in July, “masses of monkey flowers (Mimulus langsdorfi and cardinalis) , columbines (Aquilegia sp. l), and other plants (Stachys athens, Castilleja grins elli, etc.) began to burst into bloom during the first week in July about the wet places in the cafion bottoms. And these flower masses were the scenes of many noisy revels among the Allen Hummers, sometimes as many as five of the birds taking part in what looked like a free-for-all fight.”
Mr. Woods (1927) says that, on Santa Catalina Island, “towards evening, like other species, they make short sallies in Flycatcher fashion after passing insects too minute to be discerned by the human eye.”
Behavior: Henshaw (1877), with his original description of Allen’s hummingbird, makes the following comparison of this species with the rufous hummingbird:
I am in possession of but few notes bearing upon the habits of this hummer. Mr. Allen remarks incidentally in a letter that the Green-backs are much the livelier and more active of the two, keeping constantly in the open, and always perching upon the most prominent dead twigs they can find. Their extreme shyness, as contrasted with the unsuspicious nature of the Rufous-backed, is quite remarkable. They seem to possess a larger share than usual of the courage and pugnacity which is so constantly displayed in birds of this family. Not only do they always come off the victors when chance encounters take place between them and the Rufous-backs. but Mr. Allen has seen a pair attack au(l put to rout a Red-tailed hawk; while, as he remarks, “SparrowHawks have no chance at all with them.” He has often seen the little fellows in hot chase after these latter birds. and their only care seemed to be to get out of the way as soon as possible of foes so determined.
Each male seems to claim a particular range, which he occupies for feeding and breeding purposes, and every ether bird seen by him encroaching on his preserve is at once so determinedly set upon and harassed that he is only too glad to beat a hasty retreat. During their quarrels these birds keep up an incessant, sharp chirping, end a harsh, rasping buzzing with their wings, which sounds very different from the low, soft humming they make with these while feeding. Every action and motion at such times indicates that they are as mad as can be the poor Anna Hummers have to get out of their way pretty quickly at any time, hut especially when they encroach on their breeding grounds. The males very often have quarrels among themselves, and are then very noisy, while the females are more orderly and quiet; hut even they have occasional little misunderstandings with each other, especially when a pair meet while feeding on the same bush ; one generally vacates the premises very quickly, and as soon as she does all becomes quiet again.
Field marks: The male Allen’s hummingbird looks very much like the male rufous, but can be distinguished from it by the large amount of green in the back. Both sexes can be distinguished from other California hummingbirds, except migrating rufous, by the large amount of rufous in the plumage, especially in the tail. The female Allen’s is practically indistinguishable, in the field, from the female rufous hummingbird; only a close comparison of the tails will distinguish the two species. The difference in the color patterns of the tails of the two females is described, as quoted from Ridgway (1911), under the field marks of the rufous hummingbird; the difference seems to be very slight. The best distinguishing character, which might under favorable circumstances be seen in the field, is the width of the two outer tail feathers, as illustrated in Henshaw’s cut (1877); in S. rufuss the four lateral rectrices are “successively graduated in size, the outer the smallest”; and they are of normal hummingbird width; whereas in S. alleni the two outer feathers ace “very narrow, linear, the outer nearly acicular,” a well-marked difference.
Range: Coastal regions of California and northwestern Mexico; casual in Washington, Oregon, and Arizona.
Breeding range: Allen’s hummingbird is found during the nesting season only in the narrow coastal district that extends nearly the full length of California from San Clemente and Santa Catalina Islands northward to San Francisco, Berkeley, and Eureka. Four specimens taken on July 10, 1905, in the San Pedro Martir Mountains, Baja California, may possibly indicate a more southern limit of the breeding range.
Winter range: In winter the species is found north to southern California (Santa Cruz Island) ; and south to central Baja California (San Quintin and Santo Domingo). It also has been detected at Santa Barbarn, Chihuahua, in the latter part of September.
Spring migration: Early dates of spring arrival in California are: Berkeley, February 13; Haywards, February 16; Escondido, February 22.
Fall migration: The species appears to retire from the northern parts of its range during August and September, late dates being: Palo Alto, August 24: Berkeley, September 29; Presidio of San Francisco, September 30.
Casual records: Two specimens were collected at the mouth of the Pistol River, Curry County, Oreg., on June 23, 1929; and one was taken at Seattle, Wash., on May 27, 1894. In Arizona there are several records as follows: One was secured in the Santa Catalina Mountains, July 23, 1884; specimens were taken near Bisbee during August and September 1892 (?) and in the Huachuca Mountains in July 1896, in July 1902, and on July 10 and August 1, 1929.
Egg dates: California: 100 records, February 2 to June 28; 50 rccords, March 21 to May 22, indicating the height of the season.