I’ll never forget the first time I saw a male Broad-billed Hummingbird. It was ten years ago, and we were sitting in the back yard watching the mountains put on their daily light show as the summer sun sank in the west. Suddenly, a jewel with wings came between us and the view, hovering just 30 inches in front of us and reflecting a dozen shades of blue as his iridescent feathers caught the last rays of sunlight. Adding to this brilliant burst of color was a black-tipped red-orange bill unlike any other SaddleBrooke hummingbird. I thought a magic carpet had somehow whisked me to Ecuador.
Although several of Mexico’s more exotic hummingbirds regularly visit the mountain canyons near Madera and Sierra Vista, to date the most colorful and exotic hummingbird we’ve found in SaddleBrooke is the Broad-billed. This is a Mexican bird that continues to broaden its range and presence deeper into Arizona. When we moved here in 2003, Broad-billed Hummingbirds were coming into Arizona to nest in the summer, but winter visitors were rare, and mostly limited to canyon areas like Ventana in the Tucson foothills. Now, both Anna’s and Broad-billed Hummingbirds are regularly seen in and around SaddleBrooke twelve months of the year, joining the Costa’s Hummingbird as one of our three resident hummers.
The most recent edition of the Arizona Breeding Bird Atlas (2005) found only one confirmed nesting site in Pinal County, at Boyce Thompson Arboretum near Superior. However, we have seen indications of nesting birds along the Canada del Oro Wash and its tributaries from the foot of Desert Sky in unit 21 to the northern reaches below the Preserve. We have also seen numerous juvenile Broad-billed Hummingbirds, both female and male, at our feeders from late summer into fall, and we documented a nest this spring on the Hidden Falls trail in Catalina State Park.
You will see far fewer of these birds in your yard than our other two residents, and during late summer migration, fewer even than two of our three migratory birds, Rufous and Black-chinned. However, they are so stunning, they are worth waiting for. Even the female will catch your eye, with a dark auricular mask, bronze green to bluish golden green crown, nape and upper parts and blue-black tail. The male, though, will leave you breathless, especially if you get a full frontal view in bright sunlight. His crown, nape, upper and lower parts range from bronze to blue to emerald, and his throat defies description with its iridescent shades of blue. And don’t forget that red-orange bill tipped with black.
The scientific name is Cyanthus latirostris, which translates ‘Dark blue, Broad-bill’. This is a bird found only in central to northern Mexico and the southwestern U.S., and all of the birds found in Arizona are of the northern sub-species, magicus. Not surprisingly, this translates as ‘magical.’
(This article originally appeared in the September, 2013 issue of the Saddlebag Notes newspaper, Tucson, Arizona.)