A common and widespread western summer hummingbird, the black-chinned hummingbird does have a black chin, but that is not its best identifying characteristic. Instead, the iridescent purple band and contrasting white collar of the males is a clear indication of the species. Those field marks are invaluable for this adaptable bird, though females can be much harder to distinguish from other female hummingbirds.
Common Name: Black-Chinned Hummingbird
Scientific Name: Archilochus alexandri
Scientific Family: Trochilidae
Appearance and Identification
The black chin can be difficult to see on this tiny bird, but knowing the rest of its field marks is a great way to always identify black-chinned hummingbirds properly.
- Bill: needle thin, straight, long
- Size: 3.5 inches long with 4-5-inch wingspan, notched tail
- Colors: green, black, gray, white, purple
- Markings: Males have a green or green-gray head, back, and flanks, and a white spot shows behind the eye. The chin and throat are black, and an iridescent purple band at the bottom of the throat also appears black except in excellent light when it gleams like a jewel. A white collar contrasts with the throat and the chest is grayish white with a green wash on the flanks. The wings and tail are dark. Females have similar markings, including the black chin, but have a white throat that may show faint green streaking, and the corners of the tail are white. Both genders have broad, curved wingtips.
Foods, Diet, and Foraging
Like all hummers, these birds thrive on nectar, sipping from flowers and easily visiting backyard feeders offering the proper nectar solution. Black-chinned hummingbirds also eat a wide range of small insects, which provide essential protein in their diet, especially for growing chicks.
When feeding or hovering, they will pump, flick, or flip their tails, occasionally with the tail feathers spread.
Habitat and Migration
Black-chinned hummingbirds are very adaptable to different habitats and can be found in arid areas as well as riparian regions. They prefer shaded areas and are often found in mountain foothills, canyons, and urban and suburban gardens and parks. Their summer range includes the Rocky Mountains and related ranges from western Texas north to Idaho and eastern Washington and Oregon, as well as the southern California coastline and parts of northern Mexico. In winter, these birds migrate to central Mexico and along the western coast to the Gulf Coast in the United States.
These hummingbirds do not sing, and their call notes are a sharp, high “pip-pip-pip” that is repeated rapidly. When aggressive, they also use a raspy chatter, and their wings create a buzzing metallic hum or trill in flight.
Male black-chinned hummingbirds have spectacular courtship behavior that includes a broad U-shaped dive of 60-100 feet past a perched female. Outside the mating season, these are solitary birds, though there can be several in the same general region.
Black-chinned hummingbirds are territorial and will perch on a high branch to survey their territory. If that territory is violated, they will chase intruders to well outside their boundaries.
These are polygamous birds and a male will mate with several females without providing any care for his mates or the resulting offspring.
The female parent builds a cup-shaped nest using plant down bound with spider silk, with small bits of flower petals and leaves camouflaging the exterior. The nest is positioned usually lower than 10 feet above the ground, but can be much higher. The eggs are plain white and have an elliptical shape, each roughly the size of a coffee bean.
The female parent incubates her brood of 1-3 eggs for 14-16 days, and she will continue to feed the hatchlings for 14-21 days until they leave the nest.
One female may raise 2-3 broods annually.
Black-chinned hummingbirds have been recorded as hybridizing with several other hummingbird species where territories overlap, including Anna's hummingbirds, Costa's hummingbirds, and broad-tailed hummingbirds. Other hybridizations are also possible but not nearly as common.
Attracting Black-Chinned Hummingbirds
Black-chinned hummingbirds regularly visit hummingbird feeders and they can be attracted by nectar-producing flowers, though red flowers are less essential to attract these hummingbirds. Backyard birders should avoid pesticide sprays that would eliminate crucial insects as a food source. These hummingbirds will also hover in a mister to bathe or may visit a bird bath with a bubbler or other motion, and they may fly through sprinklers to bathe.
Black-chinned hummingbirds are not threatened or endangered, and in many areas their populations are increasing as feeding hummingbirds becomes more popular with backyard birders. These birds do depend on riparian habitats, however, and conservation of even small patches of vegetation along streams and rivers is critical for their continued prosperity, particularly along migration routes.
- Ruby-Throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)
- Lucifer Hummingbird (Calothorax lucifer)
- Costa’s Hummingbird (Calypte costae)
- Broad-Tailed Hummingbird (Selasphorus platycercus)