Search Field Guide
Advanced Search
MT Gov Logo
Montana Field Guide

Montana Field Guides

Broad-tailed Hummingbird - Selasphorus platycercus

Potential Species of Concern
Native Species

Global Rank: G5
State Rank: S4B

Agency Status

External Links

Listen to an Audio Sample
Copyright by Borror Laboratory of Bioacoustics, Department of Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, all rights reserved.
General Description
A hummingbird of medium size, the Broad-tailed Hummingbird is fairly long-bodied, 9 cm (3.5 inches), and has a relatively long wingspan, 13 cm (5.25 inches). The female is generally the larger of the two sexes. The male has a rose-magenta throat patch, or gorget, while the throat of the female is white with varying amounts of speckling of faint bronze, iridescent green, or the rose-magenta feather color typical of the male's gorget. Both sexes have an iridescent green back and a long broad tail, the latter of which extends beyond the wingtips. The base of the outer tail feathers is rufous in color, beyond which a thin line of green is edged in a thicker band of black or purplish-black and terminated in white. The majority of the tail is green. The center of the male's breast is white, with green and buffy flanks, while the flanks of the female are primarily buff or pale cinnamon in color. The male has a line joining the white of the neck to white on the chin via a line at the back of the gorget traveling through the eye-ring. The eye-ring of the female is pale from which a pale white line travels behind the spotted cheeks to join the white throat (Calder and Calder 1992, Johnsgard 1986, Sibley 2000). The bill is black, iris brown, and feet dusky (Calder and Calder 1992).

Without a true song, vocalizations of the Broad-tailed Hummingbird are generally described as a "chitter, chitter, chitter" or "tiputi, tiputi," produced by the male to intruders into established territory, while females produce a similar sound when protecting nesting or feeding sites (Calder and Calder 1992, Sibley 2000). The long tapered wing tips on the male create a trill during flight. This is especially evident during territorial defense (and mating display) dives, which may descend from 40 feet. This sound is described as similar to the call of a Cedar Waxwing, or as a buzzy, insect-like trill (Johnsgard 1986, Sibley 2000).

For a comprehensive review of the conservation status, habitat use, and ecology of this and other Montana bird species, please see Marks et al. 2016, Birds of Montana.

Diagnostic Characteristics
The broad, lengthy tail is the most notable feature that distinguishes the Broad-tailed Hummingbird from other hummingbird species. The Rufous Hummingbird has a tail primarily rufous in color, whereas the Broad-tailed Hummingbird's tail is dominated by green, black and white, with rufous coloration only the base of the outer tail feathers (Sibley 2000). The combination of the broad tail, overall larger size, and buff or buff-and-green flanks distinguish this from other hummingbird species common in the state.

Species Range
Montana Range Range Descriptions

All Ranges
(Click legend blocks to view individual ranges)

Western Hemisphere Range


Observations in Montana Natural Heritage Program Database
Number of Observations: 511

(Click on the following maps and charts to see full sized version) Map Help and Descriptions
Relative Density


SUMMER (Feb 16 - Dec 14)
Direct Evidence of Breeding

Indirect Evidence of Breeding

No Evidence of Breeding

WINTER (Dec 15 - Feb 15)
Regularly Observed

Not Regularly Observed


(Observations spanning multiple months or years are excluded from time charts)

All observations in Montana have occurred in May, June, or July (Montana Bird Distribution Committee 2012). No observations to indicate earlier spring dates or fall migration are available.

In general, breeding populations in the U.S. and northern Mexico move south for winter and are usually absent from the northern portions of their range by the end of September, and from the southern U.S. by the end of October. Northward migration through the southern U.S. in the spring occurs during late February to mid-April, allowing for arrival on northern breeding areas around mid-May.

No specific habitat information is available for Montana. Reported use in surrounding states (Idaho, Wyoming, and Colorado) includes habitat similar to that found in Montana and may include ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) and aspen (Populus tremuloides) groves, as well as mountain meadows and pinyon-juniper woodlands (Johnsgard 1986).

Elsewhere, the species is typically found in open woodland, especially pinyon-juniper, pine-oak, and conifer-aspen associations. The Broad-tailed Hummingbird can be found on brushy hillsides in montane scrub and thickets. During migration and winter, they may select open areas in lowlands replete with flowering shrubs. Movement to higher elevations after breeding is not uncommon (Johnsgard 1983).

Ecological Systems Associated with this Species
  • Details on Creation and Suggested Uses and Limitations
    How Associations Were Made
    We associated the use and habitat quality (common or occasional) of each of the 82 ecological systems mapped in Montana for vertebrate animal species that regularly breed, overwinter, or migrate through the state by:
    1. Using personal observations and reviewing literature that summarize the breeding, overwintering, or migratory habitat requirements of each species (Dobkin 1992, Hart et al. 1998, Hutto and Young 1999, Maxell 2000, Foresman 2012, Adams 2003, and Werner et al. 2004);
    2. Evaluating structural characteristics and distribution of each ecological system relative to the species' range and habitat requirements;
    3. Examining the observation records for each species in the state-wide point observation database associated with each ecological system;
    4. Calculating the percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system to get a measure of "observations versus availability of habitat".
    Species that breed in Montana were only evaluated for breeding habitat use, species that only overwinter in Montana were only evaluated for overwintering habitat use, and species that only migrate through Montana were only evaluated for migratory habitat use.  In general, species were listed as associated with an ecological system if structural characteristics of used habitat documented in the literature were present in the ecological system or large numbers of point observations were associated with the ecological system.  However, species were not listed as associated with an ecological system if there was no support in the literature for use of structural characteristics in an ecological system, even if point observations were associated with that system.  Common versus occasional association with an ecological system was assigned based on the degree to which the structural characteristics of an ecological system matched the preferred structural habitat characteristics for each species as represented in scientific literature.  The percentage of observations associated with each ecological system relative to the percent of Montana covered by each ecological system was also used to guide assignment of common versus occasional association.  If you have any questions or comments on species associations with ecological systems, please contact the Montana Natural Heritage Program's Senior Zoologist.

    Suggested Uses and Limitations
    Species associations with ecological systems should be used to generate potential lists of species that may occupy broader landscapes for the purposes of landscape-level planning.  These potential lists of species should not be used in place of documented occurrences of species (this information can be requested at: or systematic surveys for species and evaluations of habitat at a local site level by trained biologists.  Users of this information should be aware that the land cover data used to generate species associations is based on imagery from the late 1990s and early 2000s and was only intended to be used at broader landscape scales.  Land cover mapping accuracy is particularly problematic when the systems occur as small patches or where the land cover types have been altered over the past decade.  Thus, particular caution should be used when using the associations in assessments of smaller areas (e.g., evaluations of public land survey sections).  Finally, although a species may be associated with a particular ecological system within its known geographic range, portions of that ecological system may occur outside of the species' known geographic range.

    Literature Cited
    • Adams, R.A.  2003.  Bats of the Rocky Mountain West; natural history, ecology, and conservation.  Boulder, CO: University Press of Colorado.  289 p.
    • Dobkin, D. S.  1992.  Neotropical migrant land birds in the Northern Rockies and Great Plains. USDA Forest Service, Northern Region. Publication No. R1-93-34.  Missoula, MT.
    • Foresman, K.R.  2012.  Mammals of Montana.  Second edition.  Mountain Press Publishing, Missoula, Montana.  429 pp.
    • Hart, M.M., W.A. Williams, P.C. Thornton, K.P. McLaughlin, C.M. Tobalske, B.A. Maxell, D.P. Hendricks, C.R. Peterson, and R.L. Redmond. 1998.  Montana atlas of terrestrial vertebrates.  Montana Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit, University of Montana, Missoula, MT.  1302 p.
    • Hutto, R.L. and J.S. Young.  1999.  Habitat relationships of landbirds in the Northern Region, USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station RMRS-GTR-32.  72 p.
    • Maxell, B.A.  2000.  Management of Montana's amphibians: a review of factors that may present a risk to population viability and accounts on the identification, distribution, taxonomy, habitat use, natural history, and the status and conservation of individual species.  Report to U.S. Forest Service Region 1.  Missoula, MT: Wildlife Biology Program, University of Montana.  161 p.
    • Werner, J.K., B.A. Maxell, P. Hendricks, and D. Flath.  2004.  Amphibians and reptiles of Montana.  Missoula, MT: Mountain Press Publishing Company. 262 p.

Food Habits
There is no information on food habits available for this species in the state. Data from studies in other parts of the species' range indicate the diet includes nectar (primary sources vary with location but typically includes red tubular flowers) and small insects and spiders obtained from flowers, foliage, or by hawking (Calder and Calder 1992). See Johnsgard (1983) for a review of nectar sources in different areas.

No ecological information regarding this species exists for Montana. In other areas of the species' range, including Arizona, males defended breeding territory that averaged about 2040 square meters. In Colorado, males were observed displaying close to one another in apparent lek (see Johnsgard 1983). They may compete with Rufous Hummingbird for the same food resources in some areas.

Reproductive Characteristics
No information considered as direct evidence of breeding in Montana has been recorded.

Breeding records from other locations indicate the Broad-tailed Hummingbird may breed after the first year. The female constructs the cup nest of a variety of plant materials including rootlets and moss, lined with plant down, secured with spider webs, and decorated with flakes of lichen or bits of plant fiber. They are usually positioned on a low, horizontal branch (1 to 4 meters in height) of willow, alder, cottonwood, pine, fir, spruce, or aspen, and often over water. Nesting may occur in tall sycamores or pines at 6 to 9 meters (Johnsgard 1983, Baicich and Harrison 1997).

A clutch consists of two white, smooth-surfaced, elliptical-oval or subelliptical eggs, 9 mm by 13 mm. Egg-laying starts mainly in June to July in Arizona, Utah, and Colorado. Incubation by the female last 16 to 17 days. The young are tended by the female, and fledge in 21 to 26 days (18 days also reported). Occasionally 2 broods will be attempted in one season. Females may choose to nest in close proximity to one another.

No management activities specific to the Broad-tailed Hummingbird in Montana are documented.

Login Logout
Citation for data on this website:
Broad-tailed Hummingbird — Selasphorus platycercus.  Montana Field Guide.  .  Retrieved on , from