2015 Great Salt Lake Bird Festival Spotlight Bird

Broad-tailed Hummingbird


Original Art by Brad Gray

Text by Ella Sorensen

     Hummingbirds are well known. They are so uniquely different from any other bird on earth that scarce is the human that cannot instantly recognize a hummingbird, when spying a tiny shape, darting between flowers, hovering briefly, probing into the flower with its long needle-like bill, and then zipping on to the next blossom.  

Hummingbirds, those tiny, incredibly beautiful jewels of nature, occur only in the New World . A hummingbird description recorded in the 1500s by a Franciscan priest, as told to him by Aztec elders, gives a hummingbird account so factually precise and accurate that it differs little from modern day accounts of Broad-tailed Hummingbirds.  

The bill is black, slender, pointed, needle-like. Its throat (male) is chilly red, its feathers are flaming like a fire, they glisten they glow. Its breast is green, its wings and tail resemble quetzal feathers.  In shrubs, in trees it builds itself a nest, lays two eggs, sits, hatches its young, raises its young. Its food is flower nectar. It is whirling, active. It flies, it darts, it chirps. (Excerpted from Florentine Codex)  

Estimates of humming bird species in the world range from 325-340. Only the tyrant flycatcher family lists more species than the hummingbird family. Most numerous near the Equator, nesting species numbers decline as latitudes become more northern.  Four species regularly nest in Utah .  

Broad-tailed hummingbird, the most frequent high-elevation nesting hummingbird, is the most common species in Utah . It nests throughout the southern Rocky Mountains and eastern California and continues south through Mexico to Guatemala . Individuals nesting in the United States drift south in winter to intermingle with year-round residents in Mexico .  The Broad-tailed prefers nesting in open meadows with shrubs nearby surrounded by mountain forests. 

 The wings of a hummingbird are specially designed for prolonged hovering and the ability to fly rapidly backward. A loud wing trill announces its presence. A long tongue extends far into the flower for nectar.  Hummingbirds also eat a significant amount of insects.  

After describing a hummingbird, the Aztec account slips into folklore and myth.   

In the winter, it hibernates.  It insets its bill in a tree; (hanging) there it shrinks, shrivels, molts.  And when the tree sprouts, when it leafs out, at this time (the hummingbird) also grows features once again.  And when it thunders for rain, at that time it awakens, moves, comes to life. (Excerpted from Florentine Codex)  

Folklore inspired by keen observation of a reality! Hummingbirds have the ability when food resources are short to enter into a state called torpor, a deep, sleep-like state. Hummingbird metabolism requires huge amounts of energy. This torpor capability is especially important for Broad-tailed hummingbirds whose high elevation nesting habitat is subject to short flowering seasons, frequent storms and nocturnal dips in temperature. Torpor allows the hummingbird to reserve energy for flight when conditions are favorable.

Site maintained by: Davis County Community & Economic Development Neka Roundy, Webmanager 801-451-3286