Hummingbirds in San Diego

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These feisty, shimmering miniature acrobats enliven our yards and our lives.

Growing up back east, I almost never saw hummingbirds. Now I must admit that seeing (or at least hearing) them almost daily here in San Diego is a treat that never ages. I feel the same way about palm trees, to be honest.

These bejeweled beauties are endlessly fascinating. Hummingbirds can flap their wings dozens of times each second, and are the only birds that can fly backward. Their hearts can beat over 1,000 per minute, and at night they conserve energy by lowering their body temp from 105 to 65 degrees. Being the most agile flyers in the sky, hummers are utterly fearless, attacking even large birds of prey. At the same time, they are preyed upon by critters as small as dragonflies, and spiders that catch them in webs. (I once saved a hummingbird from a spiderweb on a mountain bike ride.)

San Diego Species of Hummingbirds

There are 328 species (all native to the Americas), and the most common hummer seen in San Diego is the Anna’s hummingbird, named in 1829 by French naturalist Rene Lesson after a famous petite courtier, Anna Massena, Duchess of Rivoli (the Duke was himself an ornithologist; he never visited the west coast of the US but was sent specimens). The Anna’s lives all up and down the west coast, is generally adaptable, has healthy populations, and is even extending its range. I’ve had the pleasure of watching Anna’s breeding in the shrubs right outside my bedroom window (and once in a light fixture on our back porch). The females are mostly green and gray, and the males have a iridescent reddish-pink neck and red crown.

Costa’s hummingbirds prefer desert habitats, but they are also common in San Diego. They are slightly smaller than Anna’s, but their coloration is similar with the males having a more purple-ish neck. They have been known to interbreed with Anna’s. Black-chinned hummers are the third species common in SD, notable for the males’ all-black head with a flash of purple on the throat. 

Attracting Hummingbirds

All three local hummers have diets primarily of nectar, though they are able hunters and devour flying insects as well. With their athletic lifestyle, they are prodigious eaters, devouring half their body weight daily. So if you want to attract hummingbirds, skip the feeder and get native flowering plants. Native salvias, fuschia, and penstemon are all great choices.

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Anna's hummingbird is the most common species local to San Diego.
Anna’s hummingbird is the most common species local to San Diego.

If you’re lucky, you might even attract hummingbird moths, amazing insects that mimic hummingbirds, and hover to feast on plant nectar just like their avian avatars.

Here are great primers on attracting pollinators and creating a native pollinator garden with containers.


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Jim Miller
Jim Miller
Jim Miller, co-editor of Bluedot San Diego and Bluedot Santa Barbara, has been an environmental economist for over 25 years, in the private sector, academia, and the public service. He enjoys sharing his knowledge through freelance writing, and has been published in The Washington Post and Martha’s Vineyard magazine. He’s always loved nature and the outdoors, especially while on a bicycle.
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