Backyard Birds

Black-chinned Hummingbirds

The Black-chinned Hummingbirds (Archilochus alexandri) – also known as Alexander Hummingbirds – are small, fairly slender hummingbirds that can be found throughout western North America, but also as far east as Florida.

They are the most widespread and common hummingbird species in Canada and the western United States; and the only hummingbirds with black chins and purple bands beneath.

They are closely related to the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

Distribution / Habitat

The Black-Chinned Hummingbird ‘s breeding range stretches from southern British Columbia in Canada through Idaho and Nevada, south to northern Mexico, and from coastal California, Arizona through Texas, where they are relatively common spring and summer residents (particularly in the western half).

They have also been reported in Arkansas, Alabama, Colorado, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Illinois, South and North Carolina, and Washington State. They are rare / accidental vagrants to District of Columbia / Washington, D.C.

They migrate to southern California, southern Arizona, southern Texas or Mexico for the winter (Peterson 1961; Gough et al. 1998). This long journey of 800 – 1600 km (500 – 1,00 miles) requires them to increase their body weight by 25-50% before the migration to meet the physical demands associated with this immense task (del Hoyo et al. 1999; Terres 1980; Baker 2001).

They are found in a wide range of different habitats, including lowland deserts, semi-wooded canyons, chaparral, mountainous forests and urbanized areas with tall trees and flowering shrubs and vines.

Because of their small size, they are vulnerable to insect-eating birds and animals.


Diet / Feeding

The Black-chinned Hummingbirds primarily feed on nectar taken from a variety of brightly colored, scented small flowers of trees, herbs, shrubs and epiphytes; favoring the nectar from flowers of Tree Tobacco (Nicotiana glauca), Scarlet Larkspur (Delphinium cardinale), and Desert Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens).

They usually prefer flowers with the highest sugar content (often red-colored and tubular-shaped) and seek out, and aggressively protect, those areas containing flowers with high-energy nectar. They use their long, extendible, straw-like tongues to retrieve the nectar while hovering with their tails cocked upward as they are licking at the nectar up to 13 times per second. Sometimes they may be seen hanging on the flower while feeding.

Many native and cultivated plants on whose flowers these birds feed heavily rely on them for pollination. The mostly tubular-shaped flowers actually exclude most bees and butterflies from feeding on them and, subsequently, from pollinating the plants.

In winter, when flowering plants may not be readily available, hummingbirds may drink the sap from holes created by sapsuckers (woodpeckers) to substitute their usual nectar diet. They may also take advantage of local hummingbird feeders for some sugar water, or drink out of bird baths or water fountains where they will either hover and sip water as it runs over the edge; or they will perch on the edge and drink – like all the other birds; however, they only remain still for a short moment.

Black-chinned Hummingbirds also take some small spiders and insects – important sources of protein particularly needed during the breeding season to ensure the proper development of their young. Insects are generally caught in flight (hawking); snatched off leaves or branches, or are taken from spider webs. A nesting female can capture up to 2,000 insects a day.

Males establish feeding territories, where they aggressively chase away other males as well as large insects – such as bumblebees and hawk moths – that want to feed in their territory. They use aerial flights and intimidating displays to defend their territories.

Even these birds are territorial, they are willing to share a desirable territory, as long as the food supply is abundant.


Breeding / Nesting

The breeding season usually commences in early April and stretches through the end of September.

Males and females are solitary and only come together to mate and separate immediately afterwards. The female alone handles the challenging task of preparing the nest and raising the young; while the male focuses on protecting his feeding territory and pursuing other females.

Before mating, the female will construct the nest, which usually takes her about 3 days. She builds the round cup-shaped nest out of green moss, small twigs and dead leaves. The nest is lined with soft plant fibers, animal hair and feather down, and the structure is strengthened with spider webbing and other sticky material to give it an elastic quality allowing it to stretch to double its size as the chicks grow and need more room.

The diameter of the nest is about 3.5 (1.5 in diameter and is usually situated in a protected location on a low, thin horizontal branch in a shrub, bush or tree between 1-2.5m, (4-8 feet) high and often over or near water.

When the nest is close to being completed, she will leave her breeding territory in search of a male.

When a female enters a male’s territory, the male performs a distinctive display consisting of an upwards flight to a height of 20 to 30 meters (~65 – 100 feet), followed by a steep and rapid dive towards the female. During this dive, the male reaches an amazing speed of 27 meters or 89 feet per second. When the male reaches the female, he pulls up in front of her, flashes his brilliant purple throat and makes a loud popping sound (thought to be made with his outer tail feathers) – then ascends to repeat the display.  Note: the dive bombing is also part of his territorial behavior — except if it is a female, he will shift to a horizontal display during which he hovers and sings to the female. The male also sings to her in a soft, high-pitched warble.

After mating, the female will return to her breeding territory to finish off the nest and get started on her family. She usually lays two to three oval, pea-sized, whitish eggs with a pinkish tint. As the chicks inside grow, the eggs start to look dull white to grey in color – depending on the stage of incubation, it will look darkest immediately before hatching. Each egg measures on average 12 x 8 mm. She incubates the eggs alone for about 13 – 16 days. The young are born blind, immobile and without any down.

The female alone protects and feeds the chicks with regurgitated food (mostly partially-digested insects since nectar is an insufficient source of protein for the growing chicks). The female pushes the food down the chicks’ throats with her long bill directly into their stomachs.

As is the case with other hummingbird species, the chicks are brooded only the first week or two, and left alone even on cooler nights after about 12 days – probably due to the small nest size. The chicks leave the nest when they are about 20 days old. (Cassidy 1990; Dawson 1923)

A hybrid between a Black-chinned and an Anna’s Hummingbird was called “Trochilus” violajugulum. The Black-chinned is also known to hybridize with Costa’s, Calliope and Broad-tailed Hummingbird

Calls / Vocalizations / Sounds

Sound Recordings

Alternate (Global) Names

Spanish: Colibrí Barba Negra, Colibri Barbinegro, Colibrí de Barbilla Negra, Colibrí Gorginegro … Italian: Colibrì golanera, Colibrì mentonero … French: Alexandri, Colibri à gorge noire … Latin: Archilochus alexandri, Trochilus alexandri … German: Schwarzkinnkolibri, Schwarzkinn-Kolibri … Czech: Kolibrík cernobradý, kolib?ík ?ernobradý … Danish: Sorthaget Kolibri … Finnish: Mustakurkkukolibri … Japanese: nodogurohachidori … Dutch: Zwartkinkolibrie … Norwegian: Svartstrupekolibri … Polish: koliberek czarnobrody … Russian: ??????????? ????????? … Slovak: cmelovec ciernobradý, Kolibrík ?iernohrdlý … Swedish: Svarthakad kolibri

Other Web Resources

Hummingbird Resources


Gordon Ramel

Gordon is an ecologist with two degrees from Exeter University. He's also a teacher, a poet and the owner of 1,152 books. Oh - and he wrote this website.

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