Year-round residents in Central America and much of Mexico, Magnificent Hummingbirds at the northern portion of their range are migratory and reach parts of the southwestern U.S. during the breeding season. Magnificent Hummingbirds are highly territorial in parts of their range, but not territorial in others.
Magnificent Hummingbirds often return to breeding areas in subsequent years. Males tend to be banded much more often than females, because they visit feeders much more frequently. The oldest known Magnificent Hummingbird in the wild was over eight years old.
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Description of the Magnificent Hummingbird
The Magnificent Hummingbird is a large hummingbird with greenish upperparts and a long bill.
- Purple crown.
- All dark tail.
- Blackish belly.
- Length: 5.25 in. Wingspan: 7.5 in.
- Whitish belly.
- Green tail with white outer tips.
Seasonal change in appearance
Juveniles resemble adult females but are slightly darker below.
Canyons and pine-oak woodlands.
Nectar and insects.
Forages by hovering.
Breeds in small areas of the southwestern U.S. and winters in Mexico. Also occurs farther south to Central America.
Bent Life History
Visit the Bent Life History for extensive additional information on the Magnificent Hummingbird.
Magnificent Hummingbirds can go into a cold torpor at night to conserve energy.
Male territories are set up to contain a certain minimum amount of nectar-producing plants.
A sharp “chip” note is given.
Magnificent Hummingbirds will come to hummingbird feeders.
- Blue-throated Hummingbird
Blue-throated Hummingbirds have a bold white line behind the eye.
The nest is a small cup of plant material placed on a horizontal branch.
Incubation and fledging:
Young hatch at 16 days. Young fledge (leave the nest) in 25-30 days after hatching but remain with the female for some time.
Bent Life History of the Magnificent 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 Magnificent Hummingbird – the common name and sub-species reflect the nomenclature in use at the time the description was written.
EUGENES FULGENS (Swainson)
This fine, large hummingbird is the largest of our North American hummingbirds, though the blue-throated hummingbird closely approaches it in size, the two appearing about equally large as seen in life. It is also one of the handsomest, although not so brilliantly colored as some of the smaller species. In the male the crown is a rich metallic violet-blue, and the throat a brilliant emerald-green, abruptly contrasted with the glossy-black breast and the bronzy green of the back; this color pattern is so arranged that every change in the bird’s position brings a different color into view.
It is mainly a Central American species. ranging as far south as Nicaragua, through the tablelands of Guatemala and Mexico, and barely crossing our southern border into the mountains of southern Arizona and New Mexico. It was added to our fauna by Henry W. Henshaw (1875), who took the first specimen at Camp Grant, Ariz., in 18Th. Since then, as he expected, it has been found to be a fairly common summer resident in various other mountain canyons.
We found it in the Huachuca Mountains, Ariz., in several of the canyons, where its favorite haunts seemed to be among the maples along the mountain streams, and where it ranges from 5,000 feet up to 7,500 feet on the slopes just below the main pine belt, where there were scattering yellow pines. Otho C. Poling (1890) says of its haunts in this same region:
It arrives in May, but Is nowhere plentiful until the mescal shrubs begin to blossom, about the middle of June. From this time on during the entire summer one may observe on almost any hillside below the pine belt large clusters of bright red or yellow flowers spreading out from stalks ten or fifteen feet high. There are many varieties of this plant and all are favorite feeding resorts of the Rivoli Hummer. I have shot as many as a dozen in a day simply by sitting down and watching for them to come and feed. It is necessary to select a well-matured plant, and at the proper elevation, as well as in good surroundings of spruce pines. While feeding, these birds range from 4,600 to 8,000 feet altitude or up to the pine belt, their favorite grounds being where the pines end on the downward slope.
Bendire (1895) quotes from some notes given him by Dr. A. K. Fisher, as follows:
The Rivoli Hummer was not met with by us in the Chiricahua Mountains until we made camp In the upper part of Ruckers Canyon, among the yellow pines (Pinns poaderosa). On the morning of June 5, 1804, an adult male dashed through the camp, paused a moment over a flower spike of a scarlet Peatstemon, and then disappeared up the canyon as rapidly as it had come. No more were seen until we reached the high mountains at Fly Park. * S * They were usually found in the more open parts of the forest where fire had killed a portion of the evergreens, and a deciduous undergrowth of aspens and shrubs thrived about the cool springs and little rivulets. A boreal honeysuckle (Lonicea involucrata) was abundant and just coming into bloom. All the Hummers in the vicinity, the Rivoli Hummer among them, delighted to glean from the flowers and to sit half concealed among the large leaves of this shrub.”
Dickey and van Rossem (1938) say of its haunts in El Salvador: “Rivoli’s hummingbird was found only among the oaks and pines and among the scrubby, flowering growths between 7,000 and 8,000 feet on the south slope of Los Esesmiles, and about some flowering agave plants scattered over rocky portions of the summit of Volcann de Santa Ana at 7,200 feet.”
Nesting: Mr. Henshaw (1875) seems to have reported the first nest discovered, of which he says:
A very beautiful nest was discovered, which, save In Its large size, resembles in Its construction the best efforts of the little Eastern rubythroat. It is composed of mosses nicely woven into an almost circular cup, the Interior possessing a lining of the softest and downiest feathers, while the exterior is elaborately covered with lichens, which are securely bound on by a network of the finest silk from spiders’ webs. It was saddled on the horizontal limb of an alder, about twenty feet above the bed of a running mountain stream, in ~ glen which was overarched and shadowed by several huge spruces, making it one of the most shady and retired little nooks that could be imagined. * * The dimensions of the nest are as follows: depth, externally, 1.50; internally, 0.75; greatest external diameter, 2.25; internal diameter, 1.15.
Major Bendire (1895) received two nests from W. W. Price, taken in the Huachuca Mountains, Arizona: “The best preserved one of the two measures 2’A inches in outer diameter by 2 inches in depth; its inner diameter is 1’/2 by 11,4 inches in depth. It is composed of soft, silky plant fibers, and is thickly coated exteriorly with small pieces of lichen, and lined with fine down and one or two soft, fluffy feathers, apparently those of a species of Titmouse. It resembles the nest of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird very closely in its general make up, but is naturally considerably larger. It was found by Mr. L. Miller on June 22, 1894, at an elevation of about 7,000 feet, saddled on a walnut branch about 10 feet from the ground, and contained one young nearly able to fly.”
Apparently this hummingbird does not like to have its nest location observed, for, on May 28, 1922, as we were walking up through the narrow, rocky canyon known as “the box,” we happened to see a partially built nest on a horizontal branch of a maple overhanging the stream. While we were watching it the female came to the nest with building material and evidently saw us. On our return, a few hours later, we were surprised to find that the nest had been entirely removed, and it was never again rebuilt in that same spot.
On the following day we found another nest in Miller Canyon, in the same general region in the Huachuca Mountains. It was about 30 feet from the ground, saddled on a horizontal branch of a maple over the trail, and so far out on the branch that it could be reached only with the aid of a rope. My companion, Frank C. Willard, succeeded in securing it for me, however. It was a beautiful nest., much like those described above, made of plant down and other soft substances, covered with lichens on the outside, and all bound together with cobwebs. This, and other nests that I have seen, though suggesting those of the rubythroat, are proportionately broader and not so high.
Mr. Willard records seven other nests in his notes, all found in the Huachuca Mountains. Five of these were in maples at heights ranging from 20 to 55 feet above ground; one was 40 feet up on a horizontal branch of a large pine and 20 feet out from the trunk; the other was placed 40 feet from the ground in a sycamore near the tip of a branch at the top of the tree. Of this last nest he says: “The nest appeared to be built in an old western wood pewee’s nest, and was made of sycamore down, covered with lichens. The female sat in the nest until I reached the branch, and then flew, returning again almost immediately and sitting on the nest until I almost touched her with the net; She tried to get under the net while I was taking the eggs out, and finally settled right in the net. After the eggs were taken she returned and rearranged some of the lining while I was cutting off the branch.” All these nests were found at altitudes ranging from 5,000 to 8,500 feet, mostly nearer the former level. Bendire (1895) says that they range up to 10,000 feet.
Mr. Willard, in his published article (1899), describes the bird’s actions in building its nest:
Returning the next day, what looked like the beginning of a nest could be seen; so I sat down to watch. The bird soon came with something in her bill which she stopped just a second to place in position, then flew off through the branches of a large pine nearby. On her return I could see nothing in her beak, but she evidently had some spider web, for she laid something on one side of the nest and then, turning around, reached under the branch and took hold of It and pulled it under and up, fastening it in place by a stroking motion with the side of her bill. This work continued with great regularity during the hour spent In watching her, nearly every other trip seeming to he after spider web. Once a short stop for rest was made, and several expeditions against neighboring Wood Pewees or an Inquisitive Jay relieved her labors. Just a week was required to build the nest and lay two eggs.
Of the behavior of the bird at another nest, he writes in the same paper: “While I was trying to get within reach the female made numerous dashes at me. She would fly from an oak a few rods distant, straight as an arrow right at my head, turning off and upward at a sharp angle when within two or three feet of me. I instinctively dodged several times, she came so close. During the last few feet of her flight the wings were held perfectly steady, not vibrating in the least until after she had turned. The humming of her wings was like that made by an immense beetle or a bumblebee, lacking the sharpness of that of small hummingbirds.”
Eggs: The Rivoli’s hummingbird lays almost invariably two eggs. These are like other hummingbirds’ eggs, pure white, without gloss, and varying from oval to elliptical-oval, sometimes slightly elliptical ovate. The measurements of 43 eggs average 15.4 by 10.0 millimeters; the eggs showing the four extremes measure 16.5 by 10.4, 153 by 11.4, 14.0 by 10.0, and 15.1 by 9.4 millimeters.
Plumages: I have seen no nestlings and can find no description of them. Ridgway (1892) says that the immature male is “intermediate in coloration between the adult male and female, * * * the crown only partly violet, the throat only partly green, chest slightly mixed with black, etc., the tail exactly intermediate both in form and color.” And that the young female is “similar to the adult female, but all the contour feathers of the upper parts margined with pale huffy grayish, and under parts darker, with entire sides distinctly glossed with bronze-green.” These characters are well shown in a large series that I have examined. Four young males, collected in July, all show more or less green in the throat, but only one, taken July 25, shows any violet in the crown. Others, taken in September and on November 1, show further progress toward maturity; and two young males, taken July 9 and 12, are still in first winter plumage.
Food: Not much has been published on the food of Rivoli’s hummingbird. Bendire (1895) mentions a boreal honeysuckle (Lonicera involucrata) as one of the plants from which Dr. Fisher saw them gleaning food, and says: “They are said to be especially fond of hovering about the blossoms of the mescal (A gave americana); these are generally infested by numerous small insects, on which they feed, and, like all our hummingbirds, they are exceedingly greedy and quarrelsome, chasing each other constantly from one flower stalk to another.”
He quotes Mr. Price as saying that “during the flowering season it feeds extensively in the flowers of the A gave parryi in the Huachuca Mountains. In the Chiricahuas I have found it early in the mornings in open glades, feeding on the flowers of an iris.” Mr. Poling (1890) mentions its fondness for the bright red and yellow flowers of the mescal on the slopes of the Huachucas.
Probably any brightly colored flowers, to which insects are attracted, are resorted to by this and other hummingbirds, the insects feeding on the nectar and the hummingbirds feeding on both insects and nectar. Mr. Fowler (1903) saw it feeding “among some scarlet geraniums in a large flower-bed.”
Three stomachs examined by Cottam and Knappen (1939) contained leaf bugs, plant lice, leafhoppers, parasitic wasps, beetles, flies, fragments of a moth, and undetermined insects and spiders. “No fewer than eight species of insects and spiders were noted in one stomach.” Spiders made up 31.66 percent and flies 26 percent of the whole food.
Behavior: While I was collecting birds with Frank Willard in the Huachuca Mountains, he asked me not to shoot any blue-throated hummingbirds, as they were so rare, and I agreed to respect his wishes. One morning we were sitting on a steep hillside watching some large hummingbirds that were chasing each other about in the tops of some tall pine trees on the slope below us. I wanted a Rivoli very much, so he pointed out one that I could shoot, but, much to his disgust, when we picked it up, it proved to be a male bluethroat. This illustrates the similarity of the two species in general appearance.
The flight of Rivoli’s hummingbird is somewhat different from that of the small hummers that I have seen. It is a large, heavily bodied bird, and its flight, though swift, is somewhat slower in proportion to its size than that of the smaller species; its wing strokes are less rapid, and it indulges in occasional periods of sailing on set wings, much after the manner of a swift.
F. H. Fowler (1903) writes of one that he saw: “Its motions are unlike any other hummer I have ever seen as its wings did not hum in the manner that has given this family its name, but cut the air with strong, firm, wing beats. Its flight was erratic, like that of the hummingbird moth, and at times like that of a bat. It would even soar, or sail for a few feet. It was not very shy, but when it made up its mind to go it would flit away on an erratic course without the slightest warning.”
Mr. Poling (1890) observes that “their flight is exceedingly rapid at times but they often fly slowly so that the wings can be easily seen during the beats. The noise made by this bird’s wings during a rapid flight is not like the buzzing of the small Hummer’s wings, the beats being more slow and distinct, without any buzzing noise.~~
Like many other hummingbirds, the Rivoli is very quarrelsome; those that we watched, as mentioned above, were evidently quarreling with the bluethroats. And Mr. Ridgway (1892) quotes the following remarks of Mr. Salvin, who was trying to collect a specimen of this species: “Another Humming Bird rushes in, knocks the one I covet off his perch, and the two go fighting and screaming away at a pace hardly to be followed by the eye. Another time this flying fight is sustained in midair, the belligerents, mounting higher and higher till the one worsted in battle darts away seeking shelter, followed by the victor, who never relinquishes the pursuit till the vanquished, by doubling and hiding, succeeds in making his escape. These fierce raids are not waged alone between members of the same species. Eugenes fulgens attacks with equal ferocity Amazilia dumerilii, and, animated by no high-souled generosity, scruples not to tilt with the little Trochilus colubris.”
Voice: Mr. Poling (1890) says that their “note is a twittering sound, louder, not so shrill, and uttered more slowly than those of the small hummers.”
Field marks: The large size of Rivoli’s hummingbird and its manner of flight will distinguish it from all except the blue-throated hummingbird. The adult males of these two species may be easily distinguished by the different color patterns, if the bird is near enough; the bluish-purple crown, the brilliant green throat, and the glossy black breast of the Rivoli are very different from the greenish crown, dull blue throat, and grayish-brown breast of the bluethroated. More conspicuous at a greater distance are the broad white tips of the three outer tail feathers of the blue-throated, as compared with the uniformly dark, greenish-bronze tail of the male Rivoli. The females of the two species are more alike but can be recognized by the tails; the female Rivoli has the three outer feathers tipped with grayish, whereas in the blue-throated these tips are white.
Range: Southern New Mexico and Arizona; south to Nicaragua. Breeding range: Rivoli’s hummingbird breeds north to southeastern Arizona (Santa Catalina Mountains and Fort Huachuca) ; southwestern New Mexico (Chiricahua Mountains and San Luis Mountains); and Nuevo Leon (Bravo). Eest to Nuevo Leon (Bravo); western Tamaulipas (Rampahuilla); and Guatemala (Momostenango and Teepam-). South to Guatemala (Tecpam, San Lucas, and probably Santa Marta); and Guerrero (Omilteme). West to Guerrero (Omilteme); State of Mexico (Volcano of Toluca); Durango (Arroyo del Buey); western Chihuahua (Pinos Altos); eastern Sonora (Oposura); and southeastern Arizona (Huachuca Mountains, Santa Rita Mountains, and Santa Catalina Mountains).
Winter range: Present information does not permit exact delineation of the winter range, but at this season it apparently is not found north of Guerrero (Taxco). From this point it occurs southward casually to Nicaragua (San Rafael).
Migration: Early dates of spring arrival in Arizona are: Huachuca Mountains, April 24; Tombstone, May 9. No data are available for the fall migration.
Egg dates: Arizona: 24 records, May 6 to July 28; 12 records, June 14 to July 14, indicating the height of the season.