Backyard Birds

Costa’s Hummingbirds

The Costa’s Hummingbirds (Calypte costae) are small North American desert birds that occur in the western United States and Mexico, but are known to wander eastward and as far north as Alaska and Canada.

They are closely related to the Anna’s Hummingbirds (Calypte anna).

These tiny birds have been named after the French nobleman Louis Marie Pantaleon Costa, Marquis de Beauregard (1806-1864).


Distribution / Range

Costa’s Hummingbirds have a very large range and are fairly common in the arid brushy deserts and nearby gardens of the Southwestern United States and the Baja California Peninsula of Mexico. Vagrants also travel north – one was banded in Idaho.

Even though they are traditionally migratory birds, an increasing number of them choose to remain throughout the year in areas with temperate climates, where food supplies are ample (with winter blooming plants and/or access to garden feeders).

They typically only migrate short distances (compared to other hummingbird species) and are usually among the first migrant birds to arrive in their breeding territories.

These mobile birds will leave areas when nectar becomes depleted, or when temperatures get too hot for their comfort, in which case they usually leave their desert breeding grounds to move up to higher altitudes (up to 5,000 ft or 1,500 m) or west to the coast, with a more temperate climate.

Costa’s have been observed in …

  • Most northern ranges: Alaska and British Columbia (western Canada) – rare vagrants
  • They are more likely to occur in …Arizona, California, Kansas, Nevada, New Mexico, Montana, Oregon, Texas, and Utah.
    • In Nevada, they were historically only summer visitors, but now increasing numbers of Costa’s s and Anna’s hummingbirds remain resident. Other hummingbird species usually leave during winter. Costa’s are fairly common around Boulder Beach at Lake Mead and in gardens around Boulder City.
    • In California, they are common from San Diego county northwest through Ventura County, and Colorado and Mohave deserts. Nesting activities reported as far north as Owens Valley (Inyo County) and Salinas Valley (Monterey County). Vagrants occur as far north as Oakland. Occur in small numbers year-round in the Anza- Borrego Desert, although most are migrants that arrive in late winter and nest through early spring.

Preferred Breeding Areas:

  • Mojave Desert located in central and southeastern California, southern Nevada, extreme southeastern Utah and northwestern Arizona.
  • Sonoran Desert located in southeastern California, southeastern Arizona, and the northwest Mexican states of Sonora, Baja California, and Baja California Sur.
  • San Joaquin Valley in the Central Valley of California, Costa’s breed locally along the western edge, along the eastern edge of the Sierra Nevada north to Inyo County, and in Monterey County (Zeiner et al, 1990)

Wintering Ranges:

Migratory Costa’s typically winter in southern California south to west-central Mexico west to the Mexican state of Nayarit. However, there are reports of them occurring at the southern tip of Mexico (Baltosser 1989, 1996).

Hummingbird Resources


This bird is believed to be the most arid-adapted hummingbird within North America. They are typically found in dry and open chaparral, scrub or woodland habitats, with a variety of plant life, such as desert scrub with flowers, cactus, ocotillo, chuparosa, and wolfberry. They are typically found near plants such as the Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia) and cholla cactus (Opuntia acanthocarpa).

Outside the breeding season, they rarely move up into mountain meadows.

Risks / Conservation

As is the case with many bird species, the Costa’s continued existence is threatened by the destruction of its native habitat. A lot of their natural breeding ground (coastal scrub) has been converted for human uses (agriculture, residential development, etc.) .

Garden feeders and exotic plants provide a temporary relief; however, don’t provide enough nutrition to ensure their long-term survival. In addition to which, these small birds are usually outcompeted for food by larger hummingbird species (Baltosser 1996).


Diet / Feeding

They primarily feed on nectar taken from a variety of brightly colored, scented small flowers of trees, herbs, shrubs and epiphytes, including the nectar from traditional hummingbird flowers, such as desert honeysuckle (Anisacanthus thurberi), barestem larkspur (Delphinium scaposum), desert lavender flowers (Hyptis emoryi), saguaro flowers (Cereus giganteus), agave, chuparosa, and fairy-duster. In southern and central California, they feed extensively on the red penstemon. They will also visit garden flowers.

They favor 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. Costa’s Hummingbirds, in particular, provide a method of pollination for various desert plants and cacti (Baltosser 1996).It is believed that the Costa’s is the chief pollinator for the Red Penstemon, for example, as in some areas where this plant occurs, the Costa’s Hummingbird is the only resident hummingbird. 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, they may drink the sap from holes created by sapsuckers, as a substitute for nectar. They may also visit 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.


They 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 often 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 (which are easily confused with hummingbirds from a distance) – that want to feed in their territory. They use aerial flights and intimidating displays to defend their territories.

Calls / Vocalizations / Sounds

Its song consists of a light chip and loud, repeated, high tinkling notes “zing zing zing”. This high-pitched call may be given from an open perch or at the bottom of the male’s U-shaped dive display.

Males are generally less vocal than females of that species. They rarely call – except when alarmed or during a courtship display.

The females vocalize frequently when they see food sources or prey; or when alarmed or during the mating ritual.

Alternate (Global) Names

Spanish: Colibri de Costa, Colibrí Cabeza Violeta, Colibrí de Costa … Latin: Archilochus costae, Trochilus costae … French: Colibri de Costa … Italian: Colibrì di Costa … German: Cosat Kolibri, Costakolibri, Costa-Kolibri, Veilchenkopfelfe … Czech: Kalypta kalifornská, kolib?ík kalifornská … Danish: Costas Kolibri … Finnish: AmetistipartakolibriDutch: Costakolibrie, Costa-kolibrie … Norwegian: Ørkenkolibri … Polish: koliberek kalifornijski … Russian: ??????? ????? … Slovak: cmelovec kalypta … Swedish: Costas kolibri … Hebrew: ??????? ???? … Japanese: kosutahachidori, ??????? … Chinese: ????


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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