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Tips for identifying Lucifer Hummingbird

Lucifer Hummingbird
Lucifer Hummingbird, adult male. September in Brewster County, Texas. Photo by Brian E. Small

When birdwatchers travel to the southwestern United States in late summer, hummingbirds usually rank high on their “want lists.” One of the most sought after is the uncommon and enigmatic Lucifer Hummingbird. Although it occurs annually in three states, its status is poorly understood.

Originally known from central Mexico, the Lucifer Hummingbird was first detected in 1901 in arid country of what is now Big Bend National Park of western Texas. This is still the bird’s major stronghold north of the border. Experts have estimated the summer population there at about 50 breeding females and presumably a comparable number of males. (In discussing hummingbird populations, we don’t say “50 pairs,” because they don’t form pair bonds and don’t defend territories as pairs.) Lucifers around Big Bend nest mainly on rocky slopes and dry canyons, feeding at flowers of agave, ocotillo, and other desert plants.

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Kenn Kaufman

Kenn Kaufman

Kenn Kaufman is an expert birder and naturalist, a talented artist and photographer, a world traveler, and the author of many books about birds and other wildlife. His column “ID Tips” appears in every issue of BirdWatching. Kenn is also a field editor for Audubon Magazine and a contributor to Birds and Blooms. His work first appeared in Birder’s World (now BirdWatching) in April 1988. Visit his website, Kaufman Field Guides.

Kenn Kaufman on social media

Brian E. Small

Brian E. Small

Brian Small is a Los Angeles-based bird and nature photographer whose photos appear in the “ID Tips” column in every issue of BirdWatching. His work has been published in Time, The New York Times, Audubon, Nature Conservancy, National Wildlife, Wildlife Conservation, and many other publications. His photos also illustrate many field guides, including Kenn Kaufman’s Birds of North America, a series of state bird identification guides published with the American Birding Association, and his own Eastern and Western photographic field guides to the birds of North America published in 2009 with author Paul Sterry and Princeton University Press.

Brian E. Small on social media