Primarily Mexican in distribution, the Broad-billed Hummingbird provides a generous splash of color to the southwestern U.S. with its bright bill and plumage. Rarely aggressive toward other hummingbird species, the Broad-billed Hummingbird’s home range likely overlaps with that of other pairs.
Much remains to be learned about Broad-billed Hummingbird biology, but one observation suggests that they may participate in lekking behavior in which males gather to display for females. Males perform both visual and auditory displays in an effort to secure a mate.
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Description of the Broad-billed Hummingbird
The Broad-billed Hummingbird is dark green above, has white undertail coverts, and a reddish bill.
– Blue gorget.
– Bright red bill.
– Green belly
– Black forked tail
– Length: 4 in. Wingspan: 6 in.
– Green upperparts and sides
– Whitish belly.
– Dull red bill.
– Narrow white eye stripe.
– Tail has pale outer tips.
Female Broad-billed Hummingbird can be told from most other female hummingbirds by its reddish lower mandible.
Seasonal change in appearance
Juveniles are similar to adult females.
Oak woodlands and desert canyons.
Nectar and insects.
Forages by hovering.
Breeds in southeastern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico as well as a large part of Mexico. Winters locally in Arizona as well as Mexico.
Bent Life History
Visit the Bent Life History for extensive additional information on the Broad-billed Hummingbird.
Evidence suggests that at least some Broad-billed Hummingbirds return to the same breeding areas in subsequent years.
Females use wing-flapping to help mold the nest to her body.
The call is a chattering sound similar to that of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.
Broad-billed Hummingbirds will come to nectar feeders and flowering plants.
The range of the Buff-bellied Hummingbird is limited to southern Texas. The ranges do not typically overlap. As the name suggests, this species has a buff-colored belly not seen on the Broad-billed Hummingbird.
The nest is a cup of grass and spider silk camouflaged with bark and leaves. It is placed on a branch or in a fork of a tree or shrub.
Incubation and fledging:
– Young hatch at 14-18 days.
– Young fledge (leave the nest) at an unknown age but likely remain with the female for some time.
Bent Life History of the Broad-billed 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 Broad-billed Hummingbird – the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.
CYNANTHUS LATIBOSTRIS Swainson
Robert T. Moore has kindly lent me a portion of his unpublished manuscript on the life habits of the birds of Sinaloa, and, with his permission, I am quoting from it most of what follows in the account of this species. As to the subspecific status of our form of the broadbilled hummingbird, he writes: “The comparison of our large series of 31 males and 24 females from northwestern Mexico, with 9 males and 3 females in the Moore collection, as well as others, from eastcentral Mexico, has convinced me that the northwestern birds, originally given the name of magica by Mulsant and Verreaux, should be differentiated on the basis of darker-green posterior underparts, whiter under tail coverts, and definitely smaller size. The Arizona form resembles this northwestern Mexican bird, rather than the eastern-” As to his personal experience with it in the field, he says: “My first acquaintance with the broad-billed hummingbird was made at the base of the great Butte, at Pefia Blanca Spring, southern Arizona. A large group of ocotillos fringed the eastern ledges below the cliff, their red pennants providing an irresistible attraction. The birds did not seem to be interested in any other flowers. My real knowledge of the habits of this hummingbird has been acquired in the States of Sonora, Sinaloa, and Chihuahua, of northwestern Mexico.
“Our four nests have been found at altitudes from 45 feet at Culiacan, Sinaloa, to 1,450 feet at Guirocoba, Sonora. Specimens have been collected at the highest elevations: Palo Verdes Mines, 4,900 feet; on the Urique River, Chihuahua. taken by myself, 5,000 feet; and even on Mount Mohinora at nearly 10,000 feet: but no nests have been secured at these altitudes. Although I observed both sexes repeatedly during May on Mohinora, feeding within a few feet of me among the flowers in extraordinary mammoth beds of paintbrush, they showed no indications of breeding.
Courtshp: Mrs. Bailey (1928) refers to this briefly, as follows: “The courtship ‘pendulum swing back and forth in front of a female,’ when given by the Broad-bill, Mr. Willard says is ‘higher pitched than that of any of the other small hummers,’ having ‘the zing of a rifle bullet’ (MS.). It is of peculiar interest to hear from Mr. 0. W. Howard that while in Arizona he saw several of the male Broad-bills in the vicinity of their completed nests.”
Nesting: Mr. Moore’s (MS.) remarks on nesting follow: “The finding of my first nest at the Guirocoba Ranch, Sonora, was a welcome goad to a brain completely fagged by the terrific heat. The tropical sun was desiccating a tiny arroyo with relentless power. A female propelled its tiny atom of a body straight to a nest on the branch of a small tree, overhanging the bank of the arroyo and not 5 feet from the ground. It was an unusual demonstration of courage and confidence in human beings, for the nest on May 2, 1934, contained no eggs, being only half finished. I have known many ruby-throated hummingbirds to desert an unfinished home, if one climbed the nest tree, and never in my experience with some dozen of them has a single male or female protected an eggless nest, as this tiny parent did repeatedly during the next few days.
“‘When it came to the more arduous operation of nest building, involving the carrying of material and weaving instead of resting, she preferred the cooler hours of the day from 3: 30 until dark, and did a prodigious amount of work. A red letter day of accomplishment was May 2. At 5 30 p. in. the nest had attained one half its final height, but at 9 o’clock the next morning the complete altitude of the walls had been erected. As the nest, now before me, is approximately 1 inch high on the outside, the above statement means that the bird built half an inch of wall material during the late afternoon and early morning hours. In addition, she added the lining and attached a considerable number of white cobweb strands, completely swathing the bottom of the nest with them and supporting and connecting its outer rim to the leaves and tiny branchlets in the vicinity. However, free access to the nest was not obstructed.
“The most interesting nest-building technique was displayed a number of times when I was within a few feet of the nest. The bird molded the bottom of it with quivering, caressing motions of the body. Often in the process the wings revolved at almost full velocity, certainly until they were blurred to sight, and yet the body of the bird appeared to be sitting in the nest throughout the action. I saw it performed a number of times; sometimes it gave the impression of a swaying motion, from one side to the other, without the body leaving the nest, or the wings ceasing to revolve. When the wings did not revolve, the bill moved rapidly along the outside of the abode, tucking in protruding ends of grasses.
“The bulk of the nest is composed of exceedingly fine material, mostly tiny shreds of huff-colored or brownish bark, grasses, and bits of dried leaves. The only larger pieces are three strips of bark placed upright, parallel with the tiny twig on which the nest is placed. I imagine these came from the sabino, a cypress that grows to a great height along a small stream not far away. Part of the inside of the nest is lined with a white material, probably some kind of minute plant down, but possibly cotton of fine texture. All these materials could be obtained from the fields nearby, which are cultivated by the Indians of the Guirocoba Plantation.
“Three other nests were secured by our expedition in Sinaloa, two of them in March at Culiacan and one on January 16, 1936, at San Lorenzo, Sinaloa. Examination of the sex organs of our numerous specimens proves that the birds are apt to breed at any time from January to August.
“As these last three nests contain two eggs each, it can be presumed that they are finished creations, although some hummingbirds attach ornamental bits of lichen to the exterior, even during the period of incubation. Not the slightest indication of this appears in any of these four nests. The January nest was taken at San Lorenzo by Chester C. Lamb, which differs somewhat from the other three. Like the March 1 nest, it was attached to the stalk of a vine. Placed 4 feet up in an espino tree, the body of the nest is composed almost entirely of cotton, but lined with a glossy-white plant down. The base is supported by a dried pod of the vine itself. On the outside are attached pieces of dried leaves and, according to Mr. Lamb, some ‘short fibers of the palo-blanco pods.’ The entire exterior is bound together with spiderwebs. The March 1 and March 7 nests from Culiacan display a lining of white plant down, covered on the periphery with bits of bark and leaves, but the bodies of the nests seem to be made of grasses and exceedingly fine, threadlike stalks of dried plants. The March 1 nest was placed in a ‘dry bush, covered with dry vines’ and the March 7 in an espino tree.
“In spite of these minor differences, these abodes are so similar that I think I could recognize them at random among a large number of other hummingbird nests. They all have some grass stalks in the body, are lined with white plant down, are all adorned with bits of leaves and bark on the outside, and not one of them has a single lichen on any part of the nest. In addition, they are all very small, with an inside diameter of only about three-quarters of an inch, and all were placed within 5 feet of the ground. They differ markedly from our nests of other hummingbirds of Sinaloa, such as the whiteear, azurecrown, and the violaceous, all these having lichen adornments. The eggs are white, two in number, and at least in the case of the San Lorenzo nest, were laid two days apart.”
Roy W. Quillin (1935) records the finding of a nest of the broadbilled hummingbird in Texas, the only nest so far reported for that State:
“A nest of this species containing two eggs was found on May 17, 1934, at Talley’s (Johnson’s) Ranch, on the Rio Grande, southwest of Mariscal Mountain, Brewster County, Texas. The nest was on the very bank of the Rio Grande, on a drooping twig in a triple fork of a small willow tree some ten or twelve feet above the ground on a steep bank of the river and almost overhung the water. The nest was composed almost entirely of the down of the willows ornamented on the outside with yellow blooms and tiny mesquite leaves and bound with spider or insect webs. The materials of the nest lashed it firmly to the twigs on which it rested in an upright fork.”
My acquaintance with the broad-billed hummingbird was a brief one in Sabino Canyon, at the southern end of the Santa Catalina Mountains, Ariz. In the rough, rocky bed of the stream flowing through this rugged canyon, Frank Willard and I made a long and laborious search for the nests of this hummingbird. It has been found nesting here in a species of shrub that grows profusely along the rough banks of the stream and among the rocks in its bed. Two or three of the birds dashed by us at different times, in such rapid flight that it seemed as if a whistling bullet had whizzed past us; but we did not succeed in finding a nest; it was in April, and we were perhaps too early. Mr. Willard had previously found a nest here, 5 feet up in a small willow over the water; he told me that 0. W. Howard had also found it nesting here. There is a nest from this locality in the P. B. Philipp collection, taken by H. H. Kimball on April 20, 1923, that was placed “in a hackberry hush growing against a small sycamore at the edge of a creek, 4 feet from the water.”
There are three nests in the Thayer collection, taken by W. W. Brown, Jr., near Opodepe, Sonora, Mexico, on May 3, 10, and 13, 1905; one of these was in an apricot tree and the other two in mesquites; the construction of these nests compares very closely with the excellent description given above by Mr. Moore.
Eggs: Two eggs seem to be the usual, if not the invariable, rule with the broad-billed hummingbird. These are pure white, without gloss, and otherwise indistinguishable from the eggs of other hummingbirds of similar size. The measurements of 27 eggs average 12.6 by 8.5 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 13.5 by 9.7, 13.4 by 9.8, and 11.5 by 7.5 millimeters.
Plumages: Mr. Moore says (MS.) “The Moore collection contains no young, actually taken from a nest, but a young male, obviously not long out of the nest, was secured at the Guirocoba Ranch in extreme southeastern Sonora on March 26, 1931. The bill is only half the length of the adult, the tail the same, and the wings two-thirds, the postnatal molt being about four-fifths complete on wings, tail, entire upper parts, under tail coverts, and portions of the neck. Possessing very loose margins, the remiges are recurved. Two nearly parallel feather tracts on the throat are sharply defined, because the new feathers are still in their sheaths, and areas on throat and breast are bare.
“As to coloration, it is significant that the tail plainly shows the male characteristics, being almost identically like the fully adult male tail in miniature, revealing no white tips I o the lateral rectrices as in the female and having the median pair blue, tipped with gray, instead of entirely bronzy green. The longest upper tail coverts show full development and might easily be mistaken for the median pair of rectrices. Therefore, it is clear that the sexes can be differentiated in this species, even in the juvenal plumage, when a few weeks old. Cinnamon-buff covers a large part of crown and occiput and reveals much wider margins on the back than in the May, June, and September worn juvenal plumage. The lesser and middle wing coverts show irridescent green, instead of bronzy.
“On the under tail coverts, although the plumage is looser than in the first winter plumage, the general appearance is immaculate white, as in practically all adult magicus contrasting them sharply with Cynanthus latirostris. So many spots on the underparts are not feathered that, except for the under tail coverts, they are blotched with black and light buff.
“The most interesting peculiarity consists in a prominent white postocular streak. This is represented by a narrow streak, half the length, in the adult female and juvenile male of first winter plumage, which is reduced to dot or is obsolete in the adult male. This streak consists of nonpennaceous feathers, very loose in texture, as in the juvenile male, and contrasts with the typical feathers of the adult female.
“Five representatives of juvenile males in their first winter plumage form part of the Moore collection. They resemble the female coloration, except that the feathers of the upper parts are margined with huffy, much more narrowly than in the juvenal plumage, and the rectrices are exactly like the adult males. A female, from Los Leones, Sinaloa, March 22, 1934, which has acquired the complete juvenal plumage, has feathers of upper parts margined just as broadly with cinnamon-buff, as the young male in partial juvenal plumage, but differs in having a fully developed tail, just like the adult females. Consequently, the differences of the sexes can be determined in every plumage.”
Young males begin to acquire some of the bluish-green feathers in the throat patch early in their first year but, apparently, do not acquire the full bluish-green gorget and the metallic bronze-green of the breast and sides until the first annual molt the next summer, when old and young become indistinguishable.
Food: The broad-billed hummingbird evidently lives on similar food to that of other members of the family, the nectar of flowers and the minute insects that the flowers attract. Mr. Moore (MS.) mentions the red floxvers of the ocotillo as attracting it and seeing it feeding in the beds of the paint brush, but probably any brightly colored blossoms would serve equally well as feeding places. He says: “A small shrub, the ‘tavachin,’ flaunts an extraordinary flower, resembling the royal poinciana, and fairly startles one with its scarlet glory. Belonging to the genus Caesaipinia or Poinciana, it provides the favorite rendezvous for Cynanthus, as well as many species of butterflies. The tiny homesteader made many excursions to obtain food from this plant, whose vivid red and yellow flowers flamed in the sunlit spaces across the sandy arroyo. She apportioned part of her time to the yellow flowers of a huge opuntia, which hung out perilously over her side of the arroyo. During the hottest period of the day she drowsed on a branch of the nesting tree, within 10 feet of the nest, not usually making food rounds until 3: 30 in the afternoon. Between each round she would spend several minutes resting in the nest tree. At the beginning of each circuit I timed the average of inception, which was approximately 15 minutes, and each time she visited apparently every flower over again. A few less conspicuous blooms were also probed.”
Cottam and Knappen (1939) examined four stomachs collected in Arizona. which “show that the bird feeds primarily on small insects and spiders.” In their summary they mention fragments of plant lice, leafhoppers, jumping plant lice, miscellaneous bugs, root gnats, flower flies, miscellaneous flies including dance flies, ants, parasitic wasps, miscellaneous Hymenoptera, some undetermined insects, spiders, daddy-longlegs, and pollen grains.
Behavior: Referring to the behavior of the female in the defense of her eggless nest, an unusual occurrence among hummingbirds, Mr. Moore (MS.) writes: “lit is true that her little majesty was never real rude about it, for when I set up my camera without camouflage this bit of animated lightning betrayed no resentment, flew straight to the nest, twirled about on it two or three times, and showed no irritation because of the huge eye of the graflex. Curiously enough, the only time she really attacked was when I photographed her with moving picture camera 20 yards from the nest, as she fed from the scarlet flowers of the ‘tavachin.’ A formal visit to her home seemed perfectly proper, but an intrusion at the dinner hour was the epitome of rudeness. Even then the attack was only half-hearted, and chronic good nature took possession immediately, as she whirled from one brilliant flower to another.
“A male broadhill was observed feeding from the ‘tavachin’ and, although he several times flew within 10 feet of the nest tree, he never landed on it, nor did the female appear to object to his feeding 20 feet away across the sandy wash. The broadbill is a common bird of the region and the male bird might not have been the ‘mate’. Although the males of United States hummingbirds do not make a practice of assisting about the nest, southern species often do. In Ecuador I have observed the male as well as the female violet-ear take turns incubating the same nest. Both individuals were collected to prove this habit.
“Such evidences of anger as the female exhibited were directed not so much at me as at the large blue swallowtail that insisted on appropriating the sweets from her flower garden. Several times she, as well as the male, chased it away, but they did not attempt to pursue the smaller butterflies. The flight of this bird from flower to flower is so characteristic that it can be recognized at some distance. Instead of darting straight to its object, as many hummingbirds do, Cynanthus progresses with a somewhat jerky, irregular flight. At least its short flight has an exceedingly nervous kind of movement, the tail bobbing up and down, lacking the precision of the Rivoli’s undeviating course., Dr. Alexander Wetmore (1932) says: “The broad-bill seems quieter and less active than some of the species that have been described, and frequently, after aggressive flight in pursuit of some intruder, I have seen the two combatants perch four or five inches from one another for a few seconds, while with raised wings they gave a low, chattering call.” He also refers to the ordinary flight as “accompanied by a subdued humming sound.” The sound produced by this bird in flight, as I have heard it, is more like the shriek of a passing bullet, far from subdued.
Field marks: The most conspicuous and diagnostic field mark of the broad-billed hummingbird is the broad, purplish-red or carmine bill; the bill of the adult male is wholly red, except for the dusky tip; that of the young male and the female is basally red. The color pattern of the adult male is distinctive, green upper parts and breast, bluish-green throat, white posterior under parts, and glossy blue-black tail. The female, adult or young, has a grayish breast and some green in the tail. The young male has a tail like his father, and the young female one like her mother.
Range: Southern Arizona, south to central Mexico.
Breeding range: The broad-billed hummingbird breeds north to southeastern Arizona (Santa Catalina Mountains and Sabino Canyon) ; probably rarely southwestern New Mexico (Cloverdale Range) and central Nuevo Leon (Monterey). East to western Nuevo Leon (Monterey) ; and the State of Mexico (Chimalcoyoc). South to the State of Mexico (Chimalcoyoc) ; Jalisco (Lake Chapala) ; and southem Sinaloa (Escuinapa). West to Sinaloa (Escuinapa); Sonora (Tesia, San Javier, Moctezuma, and Sane) ; and southeastern Arizona (Santa Rita Mountains, probably Fresnal Canyon, and Santa Catalina Mountains).
Winter range: The species appears to be resident throughout the Mexican portion of the range, although at this season it has been recorded south to Taxco, State of Guerrero. It withdraws entirely from the United States but winters north to central Sonora (Guaymas and Oposura).
Migration: Little information is available concerning the short migratory flights that are made but early dates of arrival in Arizona are: Rillito Creek, near Tucson, March 13, and Santa Catalina Mountains, April 5. It leaves this region during the last of August and early part of September.
Egg dates: Mexico: 16 records, January 16 to May 21; 8 records, March 25 to May 11, indicating the height of the season. Arizona: 5 records, April 14 to July 15.