The Black-chinned Hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri) is a widespread breeding visitor to the western half of the USA. These birds occupy a wide variety of habitats from the Gulf of Mexico right up to British Columbia, and they are no strangers to backyards in urban areas. Would you like to know what female Black-chinned Hummingbirds look like and how they differ from males?
The Female Black-chinned Hummingbird is easy to tell from the male by observing the color of her throat and the edges of her tail. Females have pale (not black) throats and white-tipped feathers on the outside of their tails.
Female Black-chinned Hummingbirds display very different behaviors during the breeding season. While males defend their territories and engage in dashing display flights, females are left to get on with the business of building a nest and raising the young all by themselves.
This guide goes in-depth to cover the differences between male and female Black-chinned Hummingbirds. Read along to learn about their appearance, behaviors, and how they compare with juveniles and similar species.
Female Black-chinned hummingbird feeding from a flower
Black-chinned Hummingbirds are not particularly colorful, although the species is sexually dimorphic with distinct physical differences between the sexes. Fortunately, the most reliable differences are usually visible from the front and back.
Male hummingbirds have characteristic glossy plumage on their throats known as gorgets. These flashy feathers may function to impress potential mates and signal to other males to keep away. While present to a lesser degree in the females of some species, they are absent in female Black-chinned Hummingbird.
True to their name, male Black-chinned Hummingbirds have black feathers on their chin and throat. This black gorget is bordered below by a band of iridescent purple. Females, however, have pale gray throats, often with some faint streaks or spots.
Fortunately, you can still identify a female Black-chinned Hummingbird, even if she keeps her back to you. The three outer feathers on either side of her tail are tipped in white. Adult males have green and purple tail feathers.
Female Black-chinned hummingbird
Male Black-chinned hummingbird
Female Black-chinned Hummingbirds are tiny birds that appear dark above and pale below. Their upper parts are metallic green in good light, and their throat, breast, and belly are grayish-white. Their tail feathers are dark, but the three outer feathers on each side have white tips.
The Black-chinned Hummingbird’s wings are relatively short, and they can extend their usually compact tail into a complete half-moon while maneuvering around a flower or nectar feeder. They have a long, straight bill, ideally shaped for sipping nectar from tubular flowers.
Hummingbirds are masters of the air, but their incredible flying skills have come at a cost to other means of locomotion. Although barely visible, these birds do have delicate black feet.
Hummingbird feet are small and weakly developed, useful only for perching. In fact, these energetic little birds can neither hop nor walk.
Close up of a Black-chinned hummingbird (female) in flight
Female Black-chinned Hummingbirds are very difficult to tell from juveniles of both sexes. However, a good look at their head and bill can help to confirm your identification. Juveniles have grooved bills, although this feature is only visible on birds in the hand.
Juvenile Black-chinned Hummingbirds of both sexes have beige-edged feathers on the head and neck, creating a paler, scalloped impression.
These ‘highlights’ fade as the young birds mature, but juvenile males usually have at least some iridescent throat feathers - the making of their future gorget.
Female Black-chinned Hummingbirds are very difficult to distinguish from other female hummingbirds, particularly in the Southwest, where hummingbird diversity is highest. Birdwatchers are most likely to confuse the following similar species:
Although rare, Black-chinned Hummingbirds are known to hybridize with several other hummingbird species. Identifying female hybrids is particularly challenging.
Female Black-chinned hummingbird perched on a branch
Female Black-chinned Hummingbirds are generally larger than males. On average, females have longer culmens (bill length), wing chords, and tails. However, large males are larger than small females, so size is not very useful for field identification.
Female (left) and male (right) pair of Black-chinned hummingbirds
Of course, identifying the sex of Black-chinned Hummingbirds by their appearance is the most practical means. However, observing their behavior offers a fascinating insight into their world.
There appears to be some difference in habitat choice between male and female Black-chinned Hummingbirds. Females tend to occupy wetter areas near streams and valley bottoms, while males forage and display on elevated areas and valley hillsides.
In common with many breeding migrants to North America, males arrive before females in the spring and depart earlier in the fall. This one or two-week head start provides the opportunity to set up a territory in advance. Males can also afford to leave early because they do not feed their young.
Female Black-chinned hummingbird perched on a hummingbird feeder
Black-chinned Hummingbirds produce at least five distinct calls. Singing is very rare and has only been heard from males.
Black-chinned Hummingbirds do not form a strong pair bond, and the female is responsible for all aspects of nesting after mating. Continue reading to learn more about her nesting behaviors.
Female Black-chinned Hummingbirds select a nest site and construct their nest without assistance. The nest is a neat cup, built from fine plant material and spider webs and often camouflaged with lichen.
The female Black-chinned Hummingbird does all the incubating, so if you’re ever lucky enough to see one of these hummers on a nest, you can be sure that it’s a female. The chicks hatch after about two weeks of dutiful care.
Once hatched, her two chicks need to be brooded to keep warm, although she will spend less time in the nest as they grow larger and require more and more food.
The female feeds the baby hummingbirds by inserting her bill directly into theirs and regurgitating a mixture of small insects and nectar. The young birds grow fast and are ready to leave the nest after about three weeks. She will continue to feed them for a week after fledging.
Female Black-chinned hummingbird sat on the nest
Male Black-chinned Hummingbirds do not assist during the nesting process. Females are excellent mothers and often produce a second or even third brood in a single nesting season, which is even more impressive when you consider that they rarely reuse their nests.
Female Black-chinned Hummingbirds are dull, emerald green above with a metallic sheen in good light. This coloration covers the top of their head, back, and tail. The uppersides of their wings are gray-brown, and their throat and belly are pale gray-white.
Female Black-chinned Hummingbirds can produce a variety of high-pitched calls when interacting with other hummers.
Female Black-chinned Hummingbirds are not territorial, although they may defend feeding areas. Males of the species are more territorial, although they often allow females to feed within their territory, and are frequently subordinate to other hummingbird species.
Ironically, the female Black-chinned Hummingbird does not have a black chin at all. Rather, their throats are pale gray or cream-colored, often with faint dark spots or streaks. Only the males possess black throats, bordered below with a band of violet iridescent plumage.
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