Lucifer Hummingbird: What’s in a Name?

Was the Lucifer hummingbird really named after the devil? Discover details about the rare bright-colored flier, including where to find them.

How Did the Lucifer Hummingbird Get Its Name?

Lucifer Hummingbird (Calothorax)SteveByland/Getty Images
Male Lucifer hummingbird in flight

“Why is a lucifer hummingbird named after the devil?” asks Mike Froio of Rome, New York.

Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman: At first glance it seems shocking. What did this little bird do to deserve such a name? But the British scientist William Swainson probably wasn’t thinking of the devil when he named this bird in 1827. The name “lucifer” has had various meanings. For example, in ancient Rome it was the name given to Venus when that planet appeared in the morning sky—appropriately enough, since lucifer is based on Latin words meaning “light bearer” or “light bringer.” Swainson probably chose the name after seeing how light reflected from the brilliant purple throat of the male lucifer hummingbird.

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What Does a Lucifer Hummingbird Look Like?

247219019 1 Johnny Bliznak Bnbhc20Courtesy Johnny Bliznak
Lucifer hummingbird

You might recognize a male lucifer hummingbird by its brightly colored purple gorget. Males are green-gray save for the gorget, rusty patches on the breast, and cream-colored feathers along the throat. Females lack the vibrant gorget; instead, they have the same green-gray upperparts, buff or rusty underparts and a dark stripe by the eye. Both females and males have a curved bill.

“I was in the Davis Mountain area just before the Davis Mountains Hummingbird Celebration, photographing hummingbirds. I was fortunate in finding some lucifer hummingbirds and was able to get this shot (above), which was my favorite,” Birds & Blooms reader Johnny Bliznak says.

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Lucifer Hummingbird Range

Unless you live in a very specific part of the United States, you’re not likely to find a lucifer hummingbird in your backyard. The lucifer hummingbird is a localized summer resident near the Mexican border. The bird’s range in the U.S. is so limited that it’s a pretty uncommon backyard guest. But it sure is stunning!

You might track one down in Arizona or Texas — especially in the Davis Mountains — but they’re generally considered a rare visitor. Located in westernmost Texas, the Davis Mountains are hummingbird heaven from July to October. With high elevation (5,000 feet) and levels of precipitation, the range is one of the Southwest’s sky island environments, making it a mecca for birds and other wildlife. Most hummingbird species in the U.S. have been spotted here.

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248441851 1 Randall Patterson Bnbhc20Courtesy Randall Patterson

“This is a beautiful male lucifer hummingbird (above). The photo was taken high in the Davis Mountains in far west Texas. Every summer, thousands of hummingbirds call the Davis Mountains home. This was a lifer for me, meaning it was the first time I ever saw this bird. I look forward to returning in summer for, hopefully, more surprises,” Birds & Blooms reader Randall Patterson says.

Big Bend National Park is also a good place to look. This rare hummingbird is found more regularly here than anywhere else in the country. Outside the United States, they reside in central to northern Mexico.

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Emily Hannemann
Emily Hannemann is an associate digital editor for Birds & Blooms. She has a bachelor’s degree in English and a master’s degree in magazine writing from the University of Missouri - Columbia. When she’s not writing and editing, you’ll find her swimming, running, or hiking. She knows blue jays are controversial, but she loves them anyway.