Allen’s hummingbird gets its name from American collector and taxidermist Charles Andrew Allen. Allen’s hummingbird was the only bird named after him. However, the bird was formally described in 1829 by René Lesson.
Allen’s hummingbirds are small, compact, and stocky birds. Adult males have an orange belly with an iridescent reddish-orange throat, known as the gorget. They have a green forehead and back with rufous flanks and rump. The tail is rufous, black, and green and has white tips on the outer feathers.
Females have speckles on their throats instead of bright throat feathers. Their backs are metallic green, and they have coppery flanks, which are duller than the males. Immature Allen’s hummingbirds are similar to females, lacking the iridescent orange throat feather.
They are similar to their close relative, the rufous hummingbird, except for the solid green back on the male. However, their tail feathers are of different shapes. When perched, the tail extends past the wings with narrow outer feathers.
They are about 3.5 inches (9cm) long, with a weight of just 0.1oz (2-4g). They have a diminutive wingspan of 4.3 inches (11cm).
As with most hummingbirds, they hover when feeding but are quick and direct in flight.
Geography and Habitat
Allen’s hummingbirds can be found along coastal California and southwest Oregon during the summer. There are two subspecies of Allen’s hummingbird. One subspecies, Selasphorus sasin sasin, migrates to Mexico in the fall to overwinter; however, the other, Selasphorus sasin sedentarius, stays in Southern California year-round.
They breed in scrub, coastal forest, and chaparral from sea level to 1,000 feet elevation. Females generally nest in tree-covered areas of redwood, eucalyptus, and Douglas-fir. Males have more open territories than females.
Although not as aggressive as rufous hummingbirds, Allen’s hummingbirds will defend their territory and chase away other hummingbirds that feed at their nectar sources or try to take their perch.
Males use two courtship displays to entice a mate. The first is where they fly side to side for short distances in front of a female, trilling their wings while showing their iridescent orange throat.
Allen’s hummingbirds create their nest on high tree branches or low shrubs or plants. They construct the nest in a cup shape using a mixture of plant fibers, weed stems, animal hair, mosses, and down.
They coat the nest with lichens and spider webs to give it strength, structure, and camouflage before lining it with plant down. In under two weeks, the small nest, about 2 inches in diameter, is built by the female and stretches as the chicks grow.
The second display has the males flying in wide arcs and producing a sound like a bumblebee. They continue using sound when they fly down from about 100 feet in the air, emitting a trill with their tail. Once in front of the female, they hopefully pull out of the dive, impressing them.
Allen’s hummingbirds feed on flower nectar, tree sap, and small insects and spiders. You can often see hummingbirds hovering above flowers, feeding on nectar. Insects and spiders are a good source of protein for birds, and they either pick them off plants or catch them mid-air.
Plants such as gooseberry, currant, sage, eucalyptus, columbine, twinflower, red-monkey flower, and penstemon are some plants they will feed on. Allen’s hummingbirds prefer red and yellow tubular flowers, and if you want to bring them to your yard, then these are the types of flowers to grow.
Bryan Harding is a member of the American Society of Mammalogists and a member of the American Birding Association. Bryan is especially fond of mammals and has studied and worked with them around the world. Bryan serves as owner, writer, and publisher of North American Nature.