Christy Pitto IVN contributing writer
This week’s crawly is a rare visitor west of the Cascades, but if you’re lucky you just may see one. Meet the black-chinned hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri).
The pictured black-chinned dropped by my feeders last week. I snapped his photo by pure chance. My aunt is visiting from Texas, and I said, “There’s the male Anna’s hummingbird.” I took a couple shots to show her.
When I checked the photos in my viewfinder, I was very surprised to find he was very much not a male Anna’s.
When migrating, black-chinned rarely stay at any one feeder for more than one day, even when food is scarce, so seeing this out-of-range hummingbird was doubly lucky.
East of the Cascades they can be quite common, so if your travels take you that way keep an eye out.
Black-chinned are the same size as our local Anna’s hummingbirds and look quite similar. Depending on the amount of light and your viewing angle, Anna’s bright fuchsia feathers look black.
Black-chinned only have refractive feathers under their throat, while Anna’s entire head is covered with them. Black-chinned feathers refract violet in a thin band at the base of their throat and need just the right light to do so. Most often they really live up to their moniker, appearing to have a solid black chin.
Black-chinned can generally be found east of the Cascades to west of the Rockies from April – October. They spend winters in Western Mexico.
Black-chinned prefer tubular flowers for gathering nectar, and also eat lots of small insects which they will catch on the wing or even pull from spider webs. They will also eat spiders out of their webs too. They love hummingbird feeders as well.
Female black-chinned look nearly identical to female Anna’s, but never sport any refractive throat feathers. The females do the nest building and care for the young. Nests are made from cobwebs, using plant down bound with spider silk, with small bits of flower petals and leaves camouflaging the exterior. The spider silk makes the nest flexible so it can expand as the young hummingbirds grow. They generally build their nest no more than 10 feet off the ground on a horizontal branch.
Black-chinned make the most of breeding season, having between one and three broods per season. Most often they will have two babies per brood.
Black-chinned are one of the most adaptable hummingbirds and are often found in urban areas and disturbed areas as well as in wilderness areas. Their diet is adaptable too; they can easily survive on only insects when no nectar is available.
Black-chinned will spend spring and summer at relatively low elevations but will often head up to higher elevations where wildflowers are still blooming to fuel up in late summer/early fall before their return trip south.
In the most southern reaches of their breeding grounds, they may stay around until late October, while those further north will head south much earlier.
Final fun fact: Black-chinned sometimes hybridize with Anna’s so the stray male from my yard may continue east looking for black-chinned females, or just might hang around with our local Anna’s.