Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Costa’s Hummingbird

1. Costa's at feeder

Immature Male Costa’s Hummingbird at my backyard feeder 9-30-2008

Costa’s Hummingbirds are one of our most unique birds to be seen here in Sycamore Canyon. I have documented their presence here year round. The males are unmistakable with their purple “helmets,” those iridescent feathers that go from their throats up over the tops of their heads. Costa’s are one of only two helmeted hummingbirds to be seen here in the USA. The other helmeted hummingbird is the Anna’s which has a rose-red gorget and a much plumper body. It can also be found here in Sycamore Canyon.  The male Costa’s purple gorget is separated from the back of the head by a white patch.  Note also that the feathers go past the neck like streamers.

 2. male costas

Male Costa’s Hummingbird in Sycamore Canyon 8-9-2009

While the males are much easier to distinguish from one another, the female can be much more difficult. In many hummingbird species the females look so much alike that it is difficult for even a professional to distinguish them in the field, but here are a few helpful clues:

Female Costa’s hummingbirds are shiny green above with gray bellies. They have a light grayish cheek patch, a short, slightly down-curved bill and they constantly pump their tail while hovering like Black-chinned hummingbirds. However, the Black Chin’s tail is much longer and the body is sleeker than the Costa’s. While Costa’s are here year round, the Black Chin is most likely to be seen in late summer and early fall.


3. Female costa's

Female Costa’s hummingbird in Sycamore Canyon 8-17-2008

February to March is the breeding season for Costa's hummingbirds in our area. Sometimes you will hear the males whirring feathers as he goes into his display flight. The male flies 75 feet high into the air and dives down in an arc where his spread tail feathers produce the sound you hear. For the first time ever I observed a male doing his shuttle dance in front of a female in my back yard. The female perched on a low tendril of my blue passion vine while the male hovered in front of her shuttling from side to side to gain her favor. I do not know if they ever mated and I have yet to find a nest here in Sycamore Canyon but I know they are out there! The clutch size is usually 2 eggs and the incubation period is from 15 to 18 days. The nesting period is from 20 to 23 days according to Stokes Beginner’s Guide to Hummingbirds.


4. immature costa's

Immature male Costa’s Hummingbird 8-10-2009

  • Here is what I do know:
  • Costa’s hummingbirds are here year round.
  • They like to perch on a horizontal twig with few obstructions but some cover.
  • They are subordinate to all other hummingbirds.
  • Thrashers and roadrunners will eat hummingbirds, so do not put suet or seed near your hummingbird feeders!
  • To attract hummingbirds to your yard, you can put up hummingbird feeders or plant hummingbird friendly plants such as penstemmon, chuparosa, honeysuckle, salvia, and other tubular flowers.
  • Hummingbirds like native Velvet Mesquite trees.
  • If you want to attract hummingbirds to you yard, DO NOT USE PESTICIDES! Hummingbirds eat tiny insects and spiders and use spider web to construct their nests. The use of pesticides can poison these and other birds and lizards that live here in Sycamore Canyon.


5. Costa's feeding

Male Costa’s Hummingbird with 3 females at my feeder 1-22-10


Costa’s Hummingbird first sighted in Sycamore Canyon on 10-2-2007


  1. We only have the Ruby-throated hummingbirds here but they are nice to have around. Last year we had one pair in the area. And the year before we had two pairs in the area so there was a constant battle going on for the rights to nectar whether it was the kind we would put out or the kind that comes in the plants and flowers that we have out.

  2. Excellent post Kathie! I will use your blog as a reference guide! Great info and pictures.

  3. Fantastic pictures and info! I saw a male Costa's on my walk the other day. Seems like only broad-billed hummers come to my feeder.

  4. I love your new blog too Kathie. Wonderful post!

  5. Very informative and great pictures. Thanks Kathie. FAB.

  6. Kathie! so much good information... plus, how could we not be jealous that you have year round hummers!

  7. aw wow ! these are excellent! makes me miss southern AZ even more than i did before...i'm kinda hoping my husband finds a Phd program down there !

  8. Well, I have been woefully absent from here and I do appologize for taking so long to answer your comments! Thank you everyone who has commented. I really do appreciate it. I am still in the process of getting this blog up and running the way I want it while maintaining my other blogs!

    Abe, hummingbird wars are so amusing but they can be dangerous! I have almost been run over several times myself!

    Dawn I can only hope I can live up to your expectations!

    Diane, it seems an odd thing to mee that I get all Costas up here in the winter while down in Tucson the Anna's and Broad-bills rule!

    Denise, you are so sweet!

    Early birder, I am trying!

    Bird couple, I am soooo lucky!

    Johny nutcase, I hope he does too! Thanks for stopping by! If you do get to come, Sycamore Canyon is a great place to live!

  9. You are way ahead of our spring/summer. Hopefully our summer birds will soon show up.

  10. What a great blog. I love your beautiful bird photo's