The heavyweight among U.S. hummingbirds, the Blue-throated Hummingbird is also tolerant of human activity and frequently nests on manmade structures. Blue-throated Hummingbirds bathe in the rain, and will use sprinklers or misters the same way.
Blue-throated Hummingbirds regularly return to breeding sites from one year to the next. Lifespans are typically short, but in exceptional cases individuals may live for 8 or more years. By late summer of their hatching year, males are already attempting to claim and defend territories.
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Description of the Blue-throated Hummingbird
The Blue-throated Hummingbird is a large hummingbird with greenish upperparts, a white eye line and a smaller white malar line, and broad white tail tips. Male has blue throat.
Female has gray throat.
Seasonal change in appearance
Juveniles resemble adult females.
Wooded canyon streams.
Nectar and insects.
Forages by hovering.
Breeds in limited areas of the southwestern U.S. and winters in Mexico.
The Blue-throated Hummingbird is the largest hummingbird found in the U.S.
Very territorial in the breeding season, males are more aggressive than females.
A repeated “seep” call is given.
Magnificent Hummingbirds lack the long eye line and do not have as much white in the tail.
The nest is a small cup of plant fibers and moss placed on a branch or protected ledge.
Incubation and fledging:
– Young hatch at 17-18 days.
– Young fledge (leave the nest) about 24-29 days but remain with the female for some time.
Bent Life History of the Blue-throated 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 Blue-throated Hummingbird – the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.
LAMPORNIS CLEMENCIAE BESSOPHILUS (Oberholser)
Although the blue-throated hummingbird had been known for more than half a century, as a Mexican bird, it was not until 1884 that it was introduced to our fauna. William Brewster received the first specimen, which was taken by Frank Stephens’s assistant in the Santa Catalina Mountains, Ariz., on May 14, 1884. Since then it has been found in the Huachuca, Chiricahua, and Santa Rita Mountains in Arizona and in the San Luis Mountains in New Mexico; it probably will be found to occur in summer in some of the other mountain ranges in that general region. This race of the species also is found in the Sierra Madre of western Mexico.
The species was split into two subspecies by Dr. H. C. Oberholser (1918), who named the northern race Cyanolaemus clemenciae bessophilus and described it as “similar to Cyanolaemws cleirtencias clernenoiae, but bill shorter; male with upper parts duller, particularly on the rump, which is more washed with grayish; lower surface decidedly paler; and throat duller. Female duller above and paler below than the female of Cyanolaenvus clemencies clemencies.” The difference in the length of the bill between the two races is not very impressive; in typical clemencies, the average for eight males is 23.8, and for two females 26.7 millimeters; whereas in bessophilus, the average for ten males is 22.2, and for two females 24 millimeters; however, there seems to be no overlapping in the list of measurements given.
The Arizona blue-throated hummingbird will always be associated in my mind with Ramsay Canyon, that interesting bird paradise on the eastern slope of the Huachuca Mountains in southeastern Arizona. The approach to it lies across some gently sloping, grassy plains, which rise to an elevation of about 4,500 feet at the base of the mountains; from here the trail in the canyon slopes upward to a height of about 9,000 feet at the summit of the divide. Around the mouth of the canyon an open park like grove of large black-jack oaks furnishes a congenial home for a number of noisy and conspicuous Arizona jays. The lower and wider portion of the canyon, along the bed of the stream, is heavily wooded with giant, picturesque sycamores and various oaks, maples, ashes, walnuts, alders, and locusts; while on the drier slopes are dense thickets of scrubby oaks and various thorny bushes, with scattered red-stemmed manzanitas and small alligator-bark cedars; and on the hillsides the rounded head of a handsome madrone towers occasionally above the forest.
The canyon is well watered by a clear, cool mountain stream that comes bounding down through a narrow, rocky gorge, furnishes the water supply for a summer colony, and finally disappears below ground in the washes out on the plains. We made our headquarters at Berner’s place, at an elevation of about 5,000 feet, a cool and delightful place in the wider part of the canyon, where a number of neat cottages and small gardens are maintained for the summer colony. Here the stream ran almost under our cabin; and here we often heard the loud buzzing of the blue-throated hummingbird or observed its direct and rapid flight, as it whizzed by our doorway along the stream. It seemed never to wander far from the narrow confines of this mountain gorge and always seemed to feel perfectly at home and unafraid among the cottages and gardens.
Courtship: Once we saw two males contending for the affections of an observant female; they were chasing each other about in the treetops and displaying their widespread, long tails, with the conspicuous white tips on the outer feathers; perhaps the bluethroats were more in evidence than they appeared to us. They saw us and departed before the ceremony was completed.
Nesting: One of our main objectives in Arizona was to find the nest of the blue-throated hummingbird; but all our efforts were in vain, for we never succeeded in finding an occupied nest. We did, however, find some old nests in two entirely different situations. There was an open dancing pavilion, roofed over but open on all four sides, that stood close to the stream. My companion, Frank C. Willard, told me that this hummer had nested under the roof of this building in the past, and he pointed out to me the remains of two nests of previous seasons on a dead branch that extended under the eaves. We saw the hummer near this pavilion several times, but, up to the time that we left, she had not built another nest there.
We had been told that the blue-throated hummingbird had been known to build its nests on the stems of some flowering plants that grow in clusters on the rocks, above the pools or waterfalls, in a narrow rocky gorge, known as “the box,” a short distance above our cabin. While passing through this gorge on several occasions we had heard or seen this hummer flying past us, and had looked for its nest in vain. But one day, while examining a large clump of cardinal monkey flower (Mimulwi cardinalis) growing on a sloping ledge near a little waterfall, we found a last year’s nest of this hummer attached to the stem of one of these plants and not over a foot above the ledge.
George F. Breninger (Childs, 1906a) found and collected a nest and two eggs of this hummer, which came into the collection of John Lewis Childs, who published a colored plate of it in The Warbler. The nest was found on May 29, 1897, in the gorge where we found the nest referred to above. It was attached to some of the taller stems in a large clump of maidenhair ferns, “which grew in the side of a wall of rock in a cut worn by water.” It was a large nest, apparently about three inches high and about two inches wide; it was “composed of oak catkins , green moss and spiders’ webs.”
Frank C. Willard (1911) has found several nests of the Arizona hummingbird, of which he writes:
In July, 1809, I located a nest built in an old Black Phoebe’s nest on a rock overhanging a shallow pool. * * *
Although I made repeated efforts I failed to locate another nest until the season of 1910. I made my headquarters at Berner’s ranch in Ramsay Canyon.
He has a flower and fruit garden, with several small greenhouses for winter use. Hanging from a nail in the roof of one of these was the handle of a lard bucket, and built upon the lower crook was a many-storied hummer’s nest, some four inches high. It contained one newly hatched young. The tell-tale ‘squeaks” of an unseen bird identified my find and by keeping out of sight, and quiet, I was able to get a good look at the female parent. Later I saw very frequently both parents feeding among the flowers and occasionally within arm’s length of me. * * *
During the last few days of my previous visit, I had seen the female In a bunkhouse that had formerly been used as a greenhouse. A piece of baling wire was wound around a nail in a rafter and formed a sort of hook. When I found the young one gone, I went at once to this bunkhouse and found the female sitting on a completed nest. She flew as I entered the room. I secured a ladder and soon held the nest and two fresh eggs In my hand. Some children were occupying this room so I did not dare leave the nest for further notes. I put another wire up, however, to furnish another nesting site.
June 21, the nest where the young had been seemed to be receiving additions, and the sides were somewhat built up, but I could not see the birds around. June 25 the nest contained one egg and the next morning there were two. A visitor told me that It was liable to be taken by some small boys who were there, so again I was afraid to leave It for observation and collected the nest and set first taking a picture of It, showing the eggs. * * *
The nest Is made largely of oak blossom hulls, and stems of the same, with a small amount of plant down Intermixed. The whole Is well tied together with cobwebs. The nest cavity Is shallow and the edges are not incurved, differing in both these respects from the nests of other hummingbirds with which I am familiar.
There is a nest, with a set of two eggs, of this hummer in the Thayer collection in Cambridge that was taken by Mr. Willard in the same locality on May 31, 1913. It was placed “on a wire hanging from the ceiling of an old barn; this pair had already raised one brood of young this season.” It is a large and roughly made nest, nearly 3 inches high by 2½ inches in diameter and the inner cavity nearly an inch deep. It is made of a great variety of plant material, as described above, felted closely into a compact structure, reinforced With coarse straws and weed stems, bound together with fine fibers and cobwebs, and lined with finer pieces of similar material. The material used reminds me of the kind used in bushtits’ nests. Similar materials were used in the nest we found in the Mimulus cardinalis, referred to above.
Milton S. and Rose Carolyn Ray (1925) found a nest in a narrow canyon in the Huachuca Mountains on May 28, 1924. It was “suspended on a wire hanging from one of the rafters” in a small deserted building. Mr. Ray says of it: “The nest is beautifully woven of moss, plant down and cottony fibers, webbed together on the exterior and decorated there with bits of very bright green moss and pale green lichens. The lining of the nest consists almost entirely of cottony fibers and down. It is unusually large for a hummingbird, measuring 3 1/4 inches high by 23/8 across. The cavity is 1 3/4 across by l 1/8 deep.
Eggs: The Arizona blue-throated hummingbird lays either one or two eggs, normally two. These are like other hummers’ eggs, elliptical-oval, pure white, and without gloss. The measurements of eight eggs average 15.1 by 10.0 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 16.8 by 10.0, 15.0 by 10.4, and 13.8 by 9.7 millimeters.
Plumages: I have seen no naked young and no partially fledged nestlings. In the young male the forehead and more or less of the crown are brownish gray, with no green feathers; the green feathers of the upper parts are margined with gray; the postocular and rictal stripes are less clearly defined than in adults; and the blue throat is only partially developed.’ I have seen birds in this plumage in July, August, and September. Probably the fully adult plumage is not assumed until the following summer, for I have seen birds in this plumage in March and April and as late as June 12.
Food: In Ramsay Canyon, this hummingbird feeds regularly and fearlessly at the flowers in the gardens about the cottages and even in the greenhouses, where it doubtless secures small insects as well as the nectar from the flowers. Mrs. Bailey (1928) says that, in New Mexico, its food consists of “insects from flowers of the shrubby honeysuckle, gilia, agave, and other plants.”
In the summary of the contents of three stomachs, Cottam and Knappen (1939) include fragments of true bugs (Hemiptera), small beetles, flies, wasps, spiders, daddy-longlegs, pollen grains, and plant fiber. In two stomachs 10 percent and 15 percent, respectively, of the food was pollen. “One bird had made 92 percent of its meal on seven specimens of a fly (Hypocera johnoni), which is rare in collections.”
Behavior: The flight of the blue-throated hummingbird seemed to us to be exceedingly swift, as it whizzed by us up or down the stream, uttering at intervals its squeaking note. It always seemed to fly directly over or along the stream; and it was gone almost as soon as it appeared. It was not at all shy and seemed to pay little attention to human beings, coming into the gardens freely while people were about. It would often alight within a few feet of a quiet observer and seemed to spend much time perched quietly on some dead twig, treetop, or other open perch.
Voice: The only note we heard was the squeaking note, which was repeated every few minutes; Mr. Willard (1911) noted that the second note is higher pitched than the first, and the third note lower than either of the other two. Mr. Ray (see Rose Carolyn Ray, 1925) refers to it as “a rather far-reaching but not overloud alarm note, ‘seek’-‘seek~-‘seek’.” Dr. Alexander Wetmore (1932) says: “The birds utter sharp, squeaking calls, and the male has a simple song of three or four notes, repeated at short intervals while the singer perches upright with head elevated.”
Field marks: This large hummer is not likely to be confused with any other hummingbird except the almost equally large Rivoli’s. The most conspicuous field mark of the blue-throated is the long, broad tail, with the prominent white tips of the three outer rectrices, recognizable in both sexes and at all ages; only the female Rivoll’s has light tipped outer rectrices, and these are gray rather than white. The blue throat of the male is not conspicuous, except at short range and in good light, but the white postocular and rictal stripes are more easily seen at short distances, especially the former.
Range: Southern Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas south to southern Mexico.
Breeding range: The blue-throated hummingbird breeds north to southeastern Arizona (Santa Catalina Mountains, Paradise, and the Chiricahua Mountains); southwestern New Mexico (San Luis Mountains); southwestern Texas (Chisos Mountains); and Nuevo Leon (Bravo). East to Nuevo Leon (Bravo and Galindo) ; and Veracruz (Las Minas, Las Vigas, and Huamantla). South to southern Veracruz (Huamantla); State of Mexico (Mexico and the Volcano of Toluca) ; and Guerrero (Omilteme). West to central C4uerrero (Omilteme); Durango (Arroyo del Buey); western Chihuahua (Jesus Maria and Pinos Altos) ; eastern Sonora (Oposura) ; and southeastern Arizona (Ramsay Canyon, Tombstone, and Santa Catalina Mountains).
Winter range: During the winter season the species is apparently concentrated in southern Mexico, chiefly in the States of Michoacan (Nahuatzen and Mount Tancitaro); and Guerrero (Taxco and Chilpancingo).
The range as outlined is for the entire species, which has been separated into two subspecies. The Texas blue-throated hummingbird (L. c. clemerwiae) ranges from southern Mexico north to western Texas, while the Arizona blue-throated hummingbird (L. c. bessophilus) is found through the Sierra Madre of western Mexico north to Arizona and New Mexico.
Migration: Very little is known about the migrations of these birds, but they have been observed to arrive in the spring at Tucson, Ariz., as early as April 21.
Egg dates: Arizona: 7 records, May 14 to July 17. Mexico: 2 records, February 17 and September 9.
TEXAS BLUE-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD
LAMPORNIS CLEMENCIAE CLEMENCIAE (Lesson)
Since Dr. Oberholser (1918) has described the Arizona bird as subspeciflcally distinct from the Mexican bird of the earlier authors, this type race of the species has been restricted in its distribution to central and southern Mexico from Michoacan and Oaxaca northward to the Chisos Mountains in western Texas. It would seem as if this race might more properly be called the Mexican blue-throated hummingbird, as most of its range is in Mexico; furthermore the birds from the Chisos Mountains do not seem to be quite typical of the southern race; Dr. Oberholser (1918) remarks that these birds “show in some specimens a tendency toward typical Cyanolaemus clemenciae clemenciae, but are decidedly referable to Cyanolaemu.s clemenciae bessophilus” On the other hand, Van Tyne and Sutton (1937) refer the Chisos Mountains birds to the Mexican race, Lamporns clemenciae clemenciae.
Typical clemenciae, the subject of this sketch, has a somewhat longer bill, darker under parts, a slightly more brilliant blue throat, and more extensive as well as brighter green on the upper parts and flanks, than the Arizona bird.
Nesting: Dr. E. W. Nelson wrote to Major Bendire (1895) as follows:
Coe1igena clemenciae Is a sparingly distributed summer resident of all the mountain regions of south central Mexico, between 7,500 and 12,000 feet. They are rather quiet birds, often found perched on the tips of large maguey leaves. In the forests of pInes of the higher slopes they are not often seen except as they dash by among the trees. On the 9th of September, 1898, a nest containing two eggs was found at an altitude of 11,500 feet on the north slope of the volcano of Toluca, In the State of Mexico. At this time the nights had already become quite frosty here. The nest was built in the fork of a small shrub, growing out of the face of a cliff about 30 feet above Its base, on the side of a canyon, in the pine and fir forest. The nest was discovered by seeing the parent approach Its vicinity. She flew quietly close up to the nest, and then, turning so that she faced out from the cliff and away from the nest, she moved backward several inches and settled lightly on the eggs. She was easily alarmed, darting away through the forest, and was not seen again. The nest was nearly inaccessible, and one egg was thrown out and broken in securing It.
Major Bendire (1895) says of the nest:
This nest, No. 26832, United States National Museum collection, now before me, is a handsome and rather bulky structure, which Is apparently composed entirely of fine mosses, the whole evenly quilted together into a smooth, homogeneous mass, and bound firmly together with silk from cocoons and spiders’ webs. It Is saddled In a tripronged fork of a small twig, the three stems being incorporated in the walls of the nest, holding It firmly in position, the main stem being only one-twelfth of an inch in diameter. It measures 2 3/4 inches in outer diameter by 3 inches in depth; the inner cup is 1 1/4 inches in diameter by three-fourths of an inch deep. The walls of the nest are three-fourths of an inch thick, and the inner cup appears very small for the large size of the nest. It looks like a warm and cozy structure, and it needs to be so. As the eggs were only slightly incubated when found, the young would probably have hatched by September 20, and would scarcely have been large enough to leave the nest before October 12, by which time one might reasonably look for snowstorms at such an altitude. There is but very little inner lining, not enough to hide the moss, which looks to me like the down from willow catkins. Two eggs are laid to a set, and probably two broods are raised In a season.
At the other end of the breeding season, Josiah H. Clark (1900) found a nest on February 16, 1899, near Las Vigas, Veracruz, Mexico, in a canyon at an elevation of about 4,500 feet, of which he writes these interesting circumstances:
On February 12 we had snow, with the thermometer down to 32 deg. F. at 4 p.m., and on February 13, at 7 a.m., down to 29 deg F. All the plants and trees were covered with ice, and the leaves of almost everything were killed; we found many frozen birds, and that was the fate of the owner of this nest. We only had two cold days, but that was enough to destroy many birds.
The nest was fastened to a vine one tenth of an inch in diameter and about three feet above a small stream of water. The vine hung from a large rock, and would have been sheltered from rain by the overhanging rock. The nest is of bulky structure, and is perhaps a new nest built on top of an old one. It is composed of fine moss massed together, and bound with spiders’ webs or similar material. It measures, outer diameter, 2 3/4 inches, depth 4 inches; Inside diameter, 1 1/4 inches, depth, 3/4 Inch. There is very little lining, only enough for the eggs to rest on, consisting of down from some fern.
Eggs: The only two sets of eggs of this hummingbird of which I have any record consisted of two eggs each. The eggs are indistinguishable from those of the Arizona race, dull white and elliptical oval. The measurements of the only egg I have been able to locate, in the United States National Museum, are 16.26 by 12.45 millimeters.
The food, behavior, voice, and general habits of this subspecies do not differ materially from those of the Arizona race.