The Costa’s Hummingbird is a small hummingbird with green upperparts that primarily lives in the American southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico. The species has also been known to travel to the northwestern United States and even as a far as southern Canada and Alaska. The species is of least consern with regards to conservation, given its rich habitat and its ability to adapt to human landcapes. Recent development in the southwest has greatly altered the landscape, however, leading to some concern over the future of the bird.
Costa’s Hummingbird feeds opportunistically on nectar from many types of flowering shrubs, trees, cacti, and agaves. Two of the most important nectar-producing plants for this species are chuparosa and ocotillo; chuparosa provides reliable nectar during the winter, and ocotillo produces abundant nectar during the breeding season (March-April). Costa’s Hummingbird departs the desert from mid-June to October, when there is a shortage of nectar.
Costa’s Hummingbird also feeds on small insects on the wing, and likely gleans spiders and insects from vegetation to fulfill protein needs.
Below is a list of nectar plants important for Costa’s Hummingbird:
Chuparosa (Justicia californica)
Ocotillo (Fouquieria splendens)
Tree morning-glory (Ipomoea arborescens)
Bladderpod (Isomeris arborea)
Desert lavender (Hyptis emoryi)
Parish thornbush (Lycium parishii)
Thornbush (Lycium exsertum)
Anderson thornbush (Lycium andersonii)
Berlandier thornbush (Lycium berlandieri)
Creosote bush (Larrea tridentata)
Fairy duster (Calliandra eriophylla)
Desert agave (Agave deserti)
Tree ocotillo (Fouquieria macdougalii)
Parry Penstemon (Penstemon parryi)
Bush-penstemon (Keckiella antirrhinoides)
Heat-leaved penstemon (Penstemon cordifolius)
Mojave beardtongue (Penstemon pseudospectabilis)
Beardtongue (Penstemon subulatus)
Desert milkweed (Asclepias subulata)
Barestem larkspur (Delphinium scaposum)
Rock echeveria (Dudleya saxosa)
Buckhorn cholla (Opuntia acanthocarpa)
Desert honeysuckle (Anisacanthus thurberi)
Foothill palo verde (Cercidium microphyllum)
Paloverde (Parkinsonia spp.)
Agave (Agave chrysantha)
Desert-willow (Chilopsis linearis)
Saguaro (Carnegiea giganteus)
Ironwood (Olneya tesota)
Cream-colored pega-pega (Eucnide cordata)
Squaw cabbage (Stanleya sp.)
White sage (Salvia apiana)
Black sage (Salvia mellifera)
Whiteleaf sage (Salvia leucophylla)
Tree tobacco (Nicotiana glauca)
Woolly bluecurls (Trichostema lanatum)
Bush-monkeyflower (Diplacus [Mimulus] longiflorus)
Scarlet bugler (Penstemon centranthifolius)
Red larkspur (Delphinium cardinale)
Sticky nama (Turricula parryi)
Vinegarweed (Trichostema lanceolatum)
Purple penstemon (Penstemon spectabilis)
Coralbean (Erythrina flabelliformis)
New Mexico thistle (Cirsium neomexicanum)
Paintbrush (Castilleja spp.)
Bush-monkeyflower (Diplacus longiflorus)
Costa’s Hummingbird is an IUCN Species of Least Concern. There is little information about the status of this species in many parts of its range, but it may be expanding its range in some areas and reappearing in other areas it formerly inhabited.
The most serious threat to Costa’s Hummingbird is the loss of habitat, particularly coastal scrub, chaparral, and Sonoran and Mojave Desert scrub. The Sonoran Desert scrub habitat that it relies upon is mostly intact but this habitat is being modified at an accelerating rate. A significant threat is the clearing and replacement of desert scrub, thorn forest, and tropical deciduous forest with South African buffelgrass (Cenchrus ciliaris) as forage for cattle—this practice is occurring primarily in Sonora, Mexico. Additionally, the invasion of desert scrub by exotic fire-prone grasses is another issue requiring management attention for this species. Nonetheless, the top management priority for Costa’s Hummingbird is to retain and restore its natural habitat, including the heavily imperiled California coastal scrub.
Hummingbird feeders placed out by humans may provide a benefit to this species, but the magnitude of this possible benefit is unknown. Human development in the southwestern U.S., however, has dramatically altered native vegetation and the resulting occurrence of exotic plants and hummingbird feeders has possibly favored Anna’s Hummingbird at the expense of Costa’s Hummingbird.
Costa’s Hummingbird is known as a hummingbird of the desert, and it can be fairly common in the right habitat. It breeds in desert washes, dry chaparral, arid brushy foothills, and low elevation scrubby habitats of the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts. It can also be found breeding near springs and in canyons, riparian woodlands, California chaparral, sage scrub habitats, the Cape deciduous forest of Baja California, and—to a limited degree—in residential settings.
In the Mojave Desert, Costa’s Hummingbird is more associated with springs and riparian areas; consequently, it is less abundant and widespread here than in the Sonoran Desert.
Most Costa’s Hummingbirds probably winter in Mexico in Baja California and Sonora in chaparral, scrub, gardens, woodland habitat, arid brushy foothills, or adjacent mountains. Unfortunately, information on habitat use for this species in winter is very limited.
Costa’s Hummingbird breeds primarily in the deserts of the southwestern United States and northwestern Mexico, including Baja California. The species can be found breeding in Sonoran and Mojave Desert habitats in California, Arizona, Nevada, and Utah, and in coastal shrub and chaparral habitats in California and Baja California.
Costa’s Hummingbird winters in northwestern Mexico throughout Baja California, along the mainland coast of the Gulf of California, and south along the Pacific Coast to about Puerto Vallarta.
The species occurs casually north to southern Alaska and east to Texas. It has been observed numerous times in the Pacific Northwest since 1970 and occurs annually from northern California to Oregon. It is less commonly observed east of the Arizona-New Mexico border. Also, its non-breeding range in California appears to be expanding.
The Costa’s Hummingbird is a small hummingbird with green upperparts. The adult male has a deep blue-violet crown and gorget that extends far down the sides of the throat. The female is white underneath, including an all-white throat that sometimes contains a few violet feathers.
It is possible to distinguish female and immature Costa’s Hummingbirds from female and immature Anna’s and Black-chinned hummingbirds in the field, although doing so depends on close views, experience, and attention to body size, shape, and call notes. The female Costa’s tends to be grayer above and whiter below than the female Black-chinned. The Costa’s Hummingbird does not have rufous coloration in its tail, and this – along with other characteristics – distinguishes it from Broad-tailed, Lucifer, Allen’s, and Rufous Hummingbirds.
Voice is one of the best ways to distinguish Costa’s Hummingbird from other species. The call is often given in a series, and it is a high-pitched metallic tink. Males give a loud zing call, as well as a high thin whistle during display flights and from perches; the whistle increases steadily in pitch, peaks, and then decreases steadily.
In the Sonoran Desert, breeding occurs from February to May; in the Mojave Desert, breeding occurs from February to June; and in southern California’s coastal sage and chaparral habitats, breeding occurs from March to September.
The male Costa’s Hummingbird performs an elaborate courtship that includes a spectacular dive display and a distinctive whistled vocalization. After mating occurs, there is no evidence that the male helps care for the eggs or young.
Nests are typically built in sparsely vegetated trees and shrubs, and located 1-2 m above the ground. Costa’s Hummingbird lays 2-3 eggs that hatch into helpless young. Sometimes a female will rear two broods in a season, but one brood is believed to be much more common. It has been hypothesized that the species may rear a brood in one habitat and later move to another habitat to rear a second brood, but this has yet to be substantiated.
Baltosser, William H. and Peter E. Scott. 1996. Costa’s Hummingbird (Calypte costae), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/251
Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 2014. Costa’s Hummingbird, All About Birds. Available at http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/costas_hummingbird. Accessed on November 4th, 2014.
National Geographic Society. 2011. Field guide to the birds of North America. 5th ed. National Geographic Society, Washington, DC.
Williams, E.J. and J.D. Alexander. 2012. Effects of Restoration and Fire on Habitats and Populations of Western Hummingbirds: A Literature Review. Klamath Bird Observatory, Ashland, Oregon.