Q: Two kinds of hummingbirds visit our yard: black-chinneds and Costa’s. One is a young male Costa’s whose throat patch is just beginning to show, and I always wonder how old he is. What is the life span of a hummingbird? — Terry Burkhart, Landers, California
Kenn and Kimberly: These tiny creatures don’t live long. Based on banding studies, 7 or 8 years is a ripe old age for most hummingbirds in the wild. Ruby-throated hummingbirds have lived 9 years, and one banded female broad-tailed hummingbird in Colorado made it to 12. A zoo that’s properly set up to care for these birds may stretch longevity: Two black-chinned hummingbirds at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum in Tucson lived to 13 or 14 years old. We don’t have much information on the Costa’s hummingbird, but a male with his gorget (throat patch) just developing would be a little less than 1 year old.
Costa’s, like the male in the photo, weigh in at only one-tenth of an ounce. Their crouched posture makes them look even smaller.
About the experts: Kimberly and Kenn Kaufman are the duo behind the Kaufman Field Guide series. They speak and lead bird trips all over the world.