How to Identify a Costa’s Hummingbird

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Find out what a male, female and juvenile Costa's hummingbird looks like. Also discover where you can see these tiny birds.

What Does a Costa’s Hummingbird Look Like?

costa's hummingbirdCourtesy Mark Rasmussen
Adult male Costa’s hummingbird

A Costa’s hummingbird, whose neck feathers taper into long mustache-like points on each side, has a head wrapped in royal purple. They weigh in at only one-tenth of an ounce. Their crouched posture makes them look even smaller.

“We have the pleasure of seeing and hosting hummingbirds all year long. This beautiful male Costa’s (above) frequently visits my backyard, and I was lucky enough to snap his photo, says Mark Rasmussen of Las Vegas, Nevada.

Meet the 15 types of hummingbirds found in the United States.

Female Costa’s Hummingbird

Bbxjj14 LuisadanielCourtesy Luisa Daniel
Female Costa’s hummingbirds are less colorful than males

The greenish and white females lack the bold purple throat and head feathers of the males. To identify the, look for a gray cheek patch and a white eyebrow. She builds a tiny cup-shaped nest and lays two jelly-bean sized white eggs. Learn about the fascinating life of a female hummingbird.

“This young female Costa’s (above) is one of two chicks her mother raised in my lighthouse wind chime. She frequently visits and is very protective of her feeder. On this day, she perched nicely for my camera in the ocotillo bush,” says Luisa Daniel of La Quinta, California.

Check out a reader’s heartwarming story about finding a Costa’s hummingbird nest in her yard.

Juvenile

Rasmussen 041110Courtesy Mark Rasmussen
The changing look of a juvenile Costa’s hummingbird

Rasmussen 041110 2Courtesy Mark Rasmussen

Rasmussen 041110 3Courtesy Mark Rasmussen

Rasmussen 041110 4Courtesy Mark Rasmussen

“A few years ago, long before spring lured hummingbirds back from warmer climates, a single juvenile male Costa’s hummingbird (above) claimed our backyard for the season. My wife named him Jack. His favorite perch was our Japanese privet, right at eye level. Jack seemed to enjoy my company, often flying in to pose. I was able to photograph Jack’s growth from juvenile to adult, capturing his transformation as gray feathers gave way to purple in just one short month,” says Mark Rasmussen.

baby costas hummingbirdCourtesy Steve Dummermuth Jr.
Young male Costa’s just beginning to show a purple throat patch

“I took this photo (above) near Scottsdale, Arizona. I think it’s an immature male, but is it a black-chinned or an Anna’s?” asks Steve Dummermuth Jr. of Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Birding experts Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman: “Young male hummingbirds are tricky to identify, because they’re often somewhere between the appearance of a female and an adult male. We think this is a young male Costa’s hummingbird for several reasons. The dark outline of the throat patch, extending down and back below the eye, is very typical of Costa’s at this stage, and so is the patch of pinkish purple on the lower throat. Also, the breast and sides are clear whitish—most Anna’s and black-chinneds show more of a gray-green wash on the sides.”

Discover amazing baby hummingbird facts and pictures.

Call and Sounds

costas hummingbirdCourtesy Catherine Werth
Costa’s hummingbird perched on a bird bath

Male Costa’s hummingbirds are regular singers, making a thin, piercing whistle. With other species, the most common sounds are aggressive calls, which resemble chattering or squealing. You’ll hear them when several hummingbirds are gathered near a food source such as a sugar-water feeder.

Habitat and Range

costas hummingbirdCourtesy Stephanie Mehmed Bialowicz
Costa’s hummingbird in Palm Springs, California

To see these birds, you’ll need to look in the southwestern states, such as southern California, Arizona and Nevada. The Costa’s hummingbird, the only member of its family adapted to living in North American deserts (including the Sonoran and Mohave), likes flower nectar just as much as its other hummingbird relatives do. But flowers are scarce in dry habitats, so this hummingbird moves with the seasons, migrating west to the coast in search of flowering plants.

Costa’s Hummingbird Hotspot

Trichocereus cactus blooms at Tohono Chul in TucsonFlorence and Joseph McGinn/Getty Images
Cactus flower blooming at Tohono Chul Park

Tohono Chul Park lies within the Sonoran Desert in Tucson, Arizona. This park provides easy walking trails and gardens to view some of the 140 bird species that visit the 49-acre site. A hummingbird garden attracts Anna’s, broad-billed and Costa’s hummingbirds year-round to sip nectar from salvia, desert willow and other plants. Migration brings rufous, broad-tailed, calliope and black-chinned hummers here.

See the variety of Arizona hummingbirds (and learn more of the best places to see them).

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Lori Vanover
Lori Vanover is the senior digital editor for Birds & Blooms. She has a bachelor's degree in agricultural and environmental communications from the University of Illinois. Lori enjoys growing vegetables and flowers for pollinators in her gardens. She is also a member of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology.