This tiny 3-4 inch hummingbird is a summer resident and breeder in New Mexico mountains, the Rockies of Colorado and up into Montana, and mountain ranges of the Great Basin. Most migrate, spending winters in Mexico and Central America, though some populations spend the entire year in southern Mexico and Guatemala.

Male broad-tails have red throat feathers and dark patches on the sides of the otherwise white belly. Females have a white throat with dark green spots on the throat and cheeks. The backs of both sexes are an iridescent green. Females also have rusty coloration on the belly and flanks. The white-tipped tails extend beyond the ends of the wing tips.

Broad-tailed hummingbirds occur in open evergreen forests with a grassy understory below 10,000 feet, as well as juniper and oak woodlands, breeding in young oaks or other shrubby habitats. Aggressive males defend their territory by chasing away interlopers. The cup-shaped nests are constructed by the female working alone on a horizontal branch usually below 20 feet high and sheltered under overhanging vegetation. Nests are camouflaged with lichen, moss, and other plant materials to resemble the bark of the limb they reside on. A 10-year study of Broad-tailed hummingbird population dynamics found that as many as 70% of females may reuse the same nest from year to year.

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Broad-tailed hummingbirds. Photo by James Taulman.

I located the nest by accident while observing adult hummingbirds and nuthatches along a trail at the Oak Flats recreation area in the Cibola National forest. The nest was 2 inches across and about 6 feet above the ground. I noticed it while following a nuthatch foraging on the same limb as the nest. The two nestlings appeared to be almost fully grown and ready to fledge. This is only the second hummingbird nest I’ve ever seen and the first I discovered myself. I continued to visit the nest after first discovering it. On Aug. 9 I observed one fledgling perched on the edge of the nest, exercising its wings by flying in place. I saw an adult feed both that morning. On Aug. 10 that young was gone and only one remained. Again, I witnessed an adult feeding the last remaining chick. That afternoon I observed the last fledgling also perched at the edge of the nest as the first had done. On the morning of Aug. 11 the nest was empty and the second bird had also flown. I’ll check this nest again next spring and see if it is reused.

Adults feed at flowers while hovering and also capture insects in flight or take them off of vegetation. They seem to favor the wild red Penstemon flowers that are common in the pine forests of our central mountains. The Audubon Society reports that Broad-tailed hummingbirds are still common and the populations are considered stable, but they are experiencing declines in recent decades, probably from destruction of habitat through wildfires and the deleterious effects of spring heat waves on nestlings. The species is common in our Cibola National forest, though it is so quick and active that it is difficult to see and identify either using binoculars or a camera. Photos by James Taulman with a Nikon P900 camera.

James Taulman is a retired wildlife ecologist who enjoys exploring New Mexico’s natural areas and observing the state’s diverse wildlife. His research publications can be accessed at here; and wildlife videos are on YouTube, here.