The name buff-bellied hummingbird doesn't do justice to the colorful and attractive plumage of this medium-large hummingbird with its turquoise, rufous, green and creamy coloration. The iconic hummingbird of the Rio Grande Valley in south Texas, this hummer is a target bird for many birders visiting that area and is one of very few hummingbird species where males and females look similar.
Buff-Bellied Hummingbird, Fawn-Breasted Hummingbird
- Bill: Long and thin, heavy at the base, red base with a black tip with more red on males' bills, slightly decurved
- Size: 4-5 inches long with 5.5-inch wingspan, moderately long tail that may be rounded or show a slight fork
- Colors: Iridescent, green, buff, rufous, blue, red, black, white, gray, black
- Markings: Genders are similar though males tend to be more brightly colored. The head, back, throat and upper breast are iridescent green, and the throat and upper breast may show blue-green or turquoise in bright sunlight and as dark as black in shadows. The abdomen is buff-gray and the wings are dusky black. The tail is rufous with dark tips on the outer feathers. The uppertail coverts are also rufous, and the undertail coverts are buff-orange. A small white spot can be seen behind the eye. Juveniles are similar to adults but may show buff edging on their upperpart feathers and less iridescence in the throat.
Nectar, insects (See: Nectivorous)
Habitat and Migration:
Buff-bellied hummingbirds prefer open or shrubby woodland habitats and riparian thickets with oak and mesquite growth and can be frequently found in citrus groves as well as parks, gardens and backyards. These birds are year-round residents from southeastern Texas along the Gulf Coast to the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico and into Belize and Guatemala. In winter, some individuals have a slight northward migration – the only hummingbird in North America to do so – that takes them along the Gulf Coast as far as western Florida, though sightings are relatively rare and their main range stays occupied throughout the year. Vagrant sightings are occasionally reported slightly north and east of their expected range, most commonly during migration.
Like all hummingbirds these are relatively quiet birds, but they do have a sharp "djit" or "chit" chirp that may be used singly or in a rapid series with evenly spaced syllables. The calls are most likely to be heard when the bird is aggressive.
These hummingbirds are typically solitary but may be found in small groups in rich feeding areas. Both males and females can be aggressive toward other hummingbirds and will chase them away from feeders, often acting as bullies toward smaller hummingbird species. Buff-bellied hummingbirds can become relatively tame around humans, often allowing them to approach quite closely without fear, especially in areas where feeders are present. When feeding, the buff-bellied hummingbird holds its tail mostly still, without regular pumps or extensive fanning.
The female of a mated pair of buff-bellied hummingbirds builds her cup-shaped nest from plant down, fine fibers, bark bits and spider silk. Nests are typically located in a sheltered location in a tree, from 3-20 feet above the ground. The two eggs per brood are plain white, and 1-2 broods are typically laid each year. The female parent does all of the incubation for 13-14 days, and after the altricial young have hatched she will continue to feed and care for the young birds for an additional 18-22 days.
Attracting Buff-Bellied Hummingbirds:
These hummingbirds will readily and easily visit backyards with feeding stations that offer hummingbird nectar in suitable feeders. Flowers that attract hummingbirds are also welcome food sources, and insecticide use should be minimized to protect the insect population these birds feed on, particularly during the nesting season when that protein source is critical for chicks' development. Bird-friendly landscaping with thicket-like plantings will be especially attractive to these hummingbirds, and a mister in a shaded area will provide an easy water source.
While buff-bellied hummingbirds are not endangered, they are susceptible to habitat loss through agricultural development within their limited range. Hummingbirds overwintering further north than their breeding range are also susceptible to harsh weather, and they do not have the same efficient torpor ability that other overwintering hummingbirds have developed. Overall, however, the buff-bellied hummingbird population is considered stable, and the ongoing establishment of preserves in south Texas is helping numbers grow.