Bird of the Week: Black-chinned Hummingbird

Black-chinned Hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri)

Regardless of the species, it’s always a thrill to see hummingbirds at my feeder. Their graceful flight coupled with their active defense of the food source is always fun to see. You can attract these birds easily during breeding season by providing nectar sources. If you set up a feeding station, be sure to change out the nectar before it gets cloudy – during our hot summers, freshen it daily. Fermented sugar water is toxic. If you can’t commit to changing the nectar daily, plant nectar-providing flowering plants instead, such as honeysuckle, trumpet vine, Indian paintbrush, and red buckeye. Get more information on plants from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Black-chinned hummingbirds are probably the easiest to identify due to their characteristic black chin and bill.  Their backs are a dull metallic green and their undersides are grayish white. When the lighting is right, you can see flashes of purple at the base of their chin. This little bird can be found in the suburbs as well as in town – provided there are tall trees and flowering plants. Central Texas is part of their breeding range, so keep an eye out for small cup shaped nests below the tree canopy.

The male courts the female with a pendulum flight display and buzzes back and forth in front of her. Should she select him, she’ll build a nest of grasses, spider webs, and plant fibers, lining the inside with plant down. She lays two eggs which incubate for approximately 15 days with the nestlings remaining for 21 days. Hummingbird nests expand as the nestlings grow, stretching from a deep cup to a wider shallow cup. The female feeds the nestlings by sticking her beak into their mouth and regurgitating tiny insects with some nectar mixed in. The pair will raise up to three broods per mating season.

Adults feed while hovering and extending their bill deep into the flower – they also catch small insects by snatching them out of the air or picking them off foliage. They’ve also been known to pick insects out of spider webs. On feeders, they may hover or perch while feeding. On my feeder, there’s often one who sits on the feeder and chases others away, even when they aren’t actively eating.

Black-chinned Hummingbirds migrate south for the winter and stay in western Mexico before making the trek back north to breed the following year. In flight, their wings beat at 15 to 80 times a second, and their hearts beat an average of 480 beats per minute. In cold weather, they may consume three times their body weight in nectar per day.

To make hummingbird nectar, use one fourth cup table sugar to one cup water. Do not add red food coloring – it has been shown to be toxic to hummingbirds. Black-chinned hummingbirds are common in our area and should be easy to attract with fresh nectar and flowers they like.


Compiled by Lisa S. Graham.  Sources include All About Birds (Cornell) and Audubon Field Guide.

Photo credits: Tim Zurowski/Shutterstock