Black-chinned Hummingbird, Little Spartans


Steve Fowler, Texas Master Naturalist, Indian Trail Chapter

 Vicious hummingbirds?  To another hummingbird, yes! This Black-chinned Hummingbird has spent the summer around my place.  He and a Ruby-throated male have fought over access to the feeders that I keep filled to attract these fascinating birds. This picture of the Black-chinned was taken after one of their fights; he’s pretty ruffled.  Another day, the Ruby-throated played peek-a-boo with me, but I finally got a shot of him.  These two Spartans have been doing territorial battle all summer.

Black-chinned Hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri)
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)

Order: Apodiformes, Family: Trochilidae

Black-chinned Hummingbirds are often thought of as western birds, and most field guides relegate them to west Texas and further west. However, these beautiful little birds are the most numerous breeding hummers in Texas, and the most adaptable. The TOS Handbook of Texas Birds lists their breeding range as extending east to the western edge of the Blackland Prairies in Dallas and Bell Counties but most common in the Trans-Pecos and Edwards Plateau. In migration, it can be found further into East Texas. Their territorial behavior and mating flight is fascinating. They expand their range after breeding season to include Ellis County and some distance farther east, so they can be seen here in late June, July and August. The spring song of the Black-chinned Hummingbird male is so high pitched that many people cannot hear it. The female raises its young without help from the male, who is not allowed near the nest.

The Black-chinned hummingbird is considered the western counterpart of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, which is the most common hummer found in the Eastern US. These two species share the same genus, Archilochus. They are similar in size and coloration, especially the females. The males differ mainly in the color of the gorget, or throat feathers. The male Black-chinned has a black gorget trimmed at the base by a violet iridescent band, which is visible only in good light. Hummingbirds stay in the area as long as they can find food or until it begins cooling off. They eat insects as well as nectar, and can subsist on insects if necessary for a short while.

Black-chinned Hummingbird – Cool Facts

  • During migration, individuals rarely remain longer than one day at a feeder even when food is scarce.
  • The Black-chinned Hummingbird’s tongue has two grooves; nectar moves through these via capillary action, then it retracts the tongue and squeezes the nectar into its mouth. It extends consumes an average of 0.61 milliliters (about a fifth of a fluid ounce) in a single meal. In cold weather, may eat three times its body weight in nectar in one day. They can survive without nectar when insects are plentiful.
  • At rest, heart beats an average of 480 beats per minute. On cold nights they go into torpor, and the heart rate drops to 45–180 beats per minute. Breathing rate when resting is 245 breaths per minute at 91 degrees Fahrenheit; this rises to 420 breaths per minute when temperature drops to 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Torpid hummingbirds breathe sporadically.
  • A Black-chinned Hummingbird’s eggs are about the size of a coffee bean. The nest is made of plant down and spider and insect silk, expands as the babies grow.
  • The oldest known Black-chinned Hummingbird lived to be 10 years 1 month

More info can be found online at the Cornell Ornithology website

Do you think nature should be part of our everyday life, not just somewhere to go on the weekends?  You are invited to attend our free, open-to-the-public, monthly program every fourth Monday at 7 pm at the Red Oak Library, 200 Lakeview Pkwy, Red Oak, TX.  For more information on the Indian Trail Master Naturalist Chapter, contact the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service at 972-825-5175 or visit our website: .

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