10 Ways to Identify a Black-Chinned Hummingbird

Spotting the subtle black-chinned hummingbird in the wild is like finding a gem in nature’s crown. With their jewel-toned plumage and zippy flight patterns, these avian acrobats captivate birdwatchers across North America.

But how do you distinguish them from their dazzling hummingbird cousins? Whether you’re a seasoned birder or a beginner eager to identify these tiny wonders, this guide will help you confidently identify a black-chinned hummingbird.

1. The Iconic Black Chin

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The male black-chinned hummingbird lives up to its name with a distinctive black chin that sets it apart from other species. This sleek, inky patch extends across the throat and is highlighted by an iridescent purple band at the base. (ref)

In certain lighting, the purple gorget (a throat patch in hummingbird parlance) glows like a royal amethyst, offering a striking contrast to the otherwise dusky chin. Females and immature birds lack this distinct coloration, featuring a plain gray throat instead. If you’re spotting a dark-throated male, the glint of purple is your surefire clue.

2. Sleek, Metallic Green Plumage

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Both male and female black-chinned hummingbirds have metallic green feathers on their backs, which shimmer brilliantly in the sunlight. This sheen contrasts with their dull gray bellies and white-tipped tail feathers. (ref)

The males sport a slightly darker green, while females appear more subdued. Immature birds closely resemble females but often have a mix of iridescent feathers peeking through. During the breeding season, you may see them fluffing up their plumage as they court potential mates.

3. Slender, Slightly Curved Bill

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Although their bills appear slender and straight from a distance, they are subtly curved. This unique shape is perfectly adapted for sipping nectar from tubular flowers like penstemons and salvias.

Unlike the longer, decurved bills of their calliope or broad-billed counterparts, the black-chinned’s beak is relatively short, which helps it probe into flowers and feeders with precision. Next time you’re by a nectar source, note the gentle curve to distinguish these tiny diners.

4. Tail Shape & Patterns

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A hummingbird’s tail can be as revealing as its throat. The black-chinned hummingbird has a distinctive forked tail with a white tip on each feather, giving it a two-toned appearance.

Males often display their tails during courtship flights, fanning them out to reveal the subtle yet distinctive pattern. Females and young birds have a similar forked tail, though the pattern may appear slightly less defined. Pay close attention to these tail patterns when identifying from a distance.

5. Subtle Song & Call

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While not particularly known for their singing prowess, black-chinned hummingbirds make their presence known through a series of soft, buzzing chirps. The males, in particular, produce a unique high-pitched “tick-tick” call. (ref)

During their courtship displays, males emit a distinctive “tchew” sound as they dive, swoop, and show off their acrobatic skills. Keep an ear out for the subtle song, and watch for those rapid aerial displays.

6. Preferred Habitat & Range

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Black-chinned hummingbirds are mainly found in the southwestern United States and parts of northern Mexico. They thrive in river valleys, scrublands, and urban gardens at elevations ranging from sea level to 7,000 feet.

In summer, their range extends from Texas to California, and in the winter, they migrate to Mexico. If you’re in one of these regions, keep your feeders stocked, and you might be lucky enough to spot one of these beauties in your own backyard.

7. Flight Pattern & Feeding Behavior

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These little dynamos are a marvel in the air, with rapid wingbeats allowing them to hover effortlessly while feeding. Unlike some species that dart from flower to flower, black-chinned hummingbirds tend to linger longer at feeders and plants.

When moving between feeding spots, they exhibit a more direct flight path. During courtship, males perform their signature pendulum display, a U-shaped flight pattern, to impress potential mates.

8. Nest Construction & Breeding

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Female black-chinned hummingbirds are exceptional architects. They craft cup-shaped nests from plant down and spider silk. The nests are often perched on slender tree branches or shrubs, camouflaged with lichen and moss.

Breeding season runs from March to August, and females usually lay two tiny white eggs per clutch. After hatching, the young remain in the nest for around three weeks before fledging. Observing their nests offers a unique insight into their fascinating reproductive behavior.

9. Subspecies Differences

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Though subtle, the two recognized subspecies of the black-chinned hummingbird differ slightly in size and plumage coloration. Archilochus alexandri alexandri is found in the western parts of their range, while Archilochus alexandri fasciata occupies the eastern regions.

While differences are minor, those in the west tend to have slightly shorter wings and darker backs compared to their eastern cousins. Regional variation is an intriguing aspect of identifying these birds.

10. Compare with Similar Species

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One of the best ways to identify a black-chinned hummingbird is to compare it to a similar species. They are often confused with ruby-throated and Anna’s hummingbirds, but each has distinct features.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds, for instance, have a red gorget and slightly shorter wings, while Anna’s hummingbirds display a rose-red gorget that extends to the head. Taking note of these key differences will help you accurately identify the black-chinned hummingbird.

With these ten identification tips under your belt, you’re well on your way to spotting the elusive black-chinned hummingbird in the wild. From the iconic black chin to their subtle song, these birds are a delight to observe and a joy to identify. Happy birdwatching!

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Davin is a jack-of-all-trades but has professional training and experience in various home and garden subjects. He leans on other experts when needed and edits and fact-checks all articles.