The Costa’s hummingbird is found living in the deserts of California and Arizona. They migrate short distances in hot summer temperatures to the coasts of southern California and Baja California (Mexican peninsula).
Take a look at some beautiful close-up photographs of this beautiful species. A video of the courtship dance with the male’s octopus-like flared throat is included below.
Along the way, learn some interesting facts and tips about how to attract them to your yard.
Scientific name: Calypte costae
Length: 3.0 – 3.5 inches
Wingspan: 4.3 inches
Weight: 0.11 ounces
Dazzling bright purple feathers adorn the gorget (throat patch) of the male Costa’s hummingbird. He displays this beautiful color to his dazzling green and gray female counterparts.
These birds frequent the Sonoran Desert in south-central Arizona, the Mojave Desert area in California, and cooler coastal scrub areas of the Baja peninsula in Mexico.
These shy birds sit with a “squat-like”, hunched appearance with shorter bills, necks, and tails than many other hummingbird species.
Male Costa’s are small and compact with an iridescent flared dark purple gorget. In different lighting, the throat patch may look black. Their backs are green, and the breast is white and pale green along the sides.
Immature males have intermittent purple gorget feathers. More of the purple feathers grow in as they mature.
Female Costa’s are green-backed, with a pale gray head, cheek, and white-gray underparts.
They have a small white eyebrow marking and white spots on the corners of their tail feathers.
Costa’s hummingbirds hover to drink nectar and catch insects on the wing.
Males defend territories and nectar sources, especially during the breeding season.
They typically perch and whistle on the same 3 or 4 spots in the territory, often on dead twigs of ironwood, acacia, or palo verde trees. They also perform looping dives to court females and threaten intruders.
During the off-breeding season, both males and females will defend nectar sources. However, they are more submissive to larger hummingbird species, such as the rufous hummingbird.
Costa’s hummingbirds like desert areas and dry conditions. They are primarily found breeding in the scrub of the Sonoran Desert (AZ) or the Mojave Desert (CA), or along the California coast.
Some Costa’s hummingbirds remain permanent residents, while others may migrate a short distance to Baja California, Mexico, along the western coast.
While primarily found in the Southwest, there have been unusual sightings of this bird elsewhere. This includes the desert area of southern Nevada, the southwestern area of Utah, and the Pacific northwest of British Columbia, Canada, and Alaska.
The diet of Costa’s hummingbirds is nectar and small-winged insects.
They most commonly feed on chuparosa shrubs that bloom red tubular flowers, and ocotillo shrubs that have clusters of red or pink flowers at the stem’s tips.
However, they are found to visit over 22 different kinds of plants in their habitats, which include black sage, agave, desert honeysuckle, heart-leaved penstemon, New Mexico thistle, and bush monkeyflower.
While at flowers, they will pluck insects from foliage. Otherwise, they can catch them midair, flying out from perches.
They will hover or perch at hummingbird feeders with homemade sugar water.
These hummingbirds typically like the desert, washes (desert vegetation), and scrub in dry and open habitats.
They are often found in the following habitats in these locations:
- Sonoran Desert (USA): scrub, desert washes with jojoba palo verde, desert lavender, or chuparosa, steep rocky slopes, lowlands with creosote bush and cacti; inhabit below elevations of 3,000 feet
- Mojave Desert (USA): scrub, brittlebush, four-winged saltbush, woodlands with cottonwood trees and water; inhabit below elevations of 4,000 feet
- Coastal California (USA): chaparral, sage scrub
- Baja California (Mexico): deciduous forests with tree-morning glory, Adam’s tree, cardon cacti, and elephant tree; desert scrub
The breeding season varies for Costa’s hummingbirds depending upon their latitude and habitat.
Breeding can occur as early as February and as late as June, but ideally, before the desert is too hot. The peak of egg-laying is typically in late March.
Males court and mate with more than one female. He flies towards the females, looping and then soaring high to dive in a U- or J-shaped pattern.
During this flight, he sings a high-pitched whistle. The males repeat this for about 35 seconds and up to 4 minutes long to entice the female.
If this does not work, he will then hover in front of her and fan out his purple gorget. Some people say the way that it flares looks like a miniature octopus.
This video shows an excellent view of what this looks like:
After mating, he leaves and the female takes care of the eggs and offspring. However, he will stand watch over his territory, which includes the nesting females.
Eggs & Offspring
The flimsy cup-shaped nest is built by the female in open, sparsely leafed shrubs, desert trees, or cacti about 2 to 8 feet from the ground.
It is constructed of plant fibers, bark, leaves, lichen, flowers, and spider webs. It measures about 1.25 wide and 1 inch deep.
She will lay 2 white eggs, and incubate them for 15 to 18 days. During this time, she may add more material to her nest.
Once hatched, the female feeds the nestlings and they fledge the nests about 20 to 23 days later.
If the female bred early in the season, she may have a second brood. Sometimes, she will build a new nest on top of an old one.
Costa’s hummingbirds are permanent residents or short-distance migrants.
Those breeding in the Sonoran Desert typically leave in the late summer and fall months to head for coastal areas abundant with flowers.
If there are ample flowers year-round, then these hummingbirds may stay put.
If the summers are too hot, they may move to higher elevations or cooler areas in their range. Some migrate to northern Mexico for the non-breeding season.
Costa’s hummingbirds are relatively stable in their population growth and are of low conservation concern.
The biggest threat to these hummers is grazing, desert wildfires, and land development in desert scrub that removes their nesting and feeding sources.
However, these birds seem adaptable since they have been found nesting in suburban areas within their range.
How To Attract Costa’s Hummingbirds
If you live in the range of Costa’s hummingbirds, you can easily attract them to your yard.
To see one up close, set up a hummingbird feeder with the perfect sugar-water recipe. These birds are a bit shy, so consider setting up more than one feeder.
Space them apart on opposite sides, and place them out of busy yard traffic areas. Multiple feeders also make for less competition against more aggressive hummingbird species.
Also add native, nectar-rich flowers to your landscaping such as desert honeysuckle, penstemon, and other red, tubular, or bell-shaped varieties.
Consider adding a mixture of plants that offer blooms year-round to keep these hummers visiting.
Where you live in or travel to the Southwest, you’ll most often see these hummingbirds sometime between February and June.
Look for the flowering desert shrubs for drinking and perching hummers. You may hear their high-pitched whistles as well.
Costa’s Hummingbird Fascinating Facts
- Costa’s hummingbirds drink a lot of nectar. It is estimated that they daily need to visit 1,840 flowers to obtain enough food for energy.
- This hummer is named after French naturalist Jule Bourcier’s friend, Louis Marie Pantaleon Costa de Beauregard. He was a French nobleman fond of hummingbirds.
- When resting in torpor at night, the Costa’s hummingbird’s heart rate drops to 50 beats per minute. During the day it beats as fast as 500 to 9000 times per minute.