This species of hummingbird was formerly known as the Refulgent Hummingbird or Rivoli’s Hummingbird until the mid-1980s. At that time, it then became commonly known as the Magnificent Hummingbird, which thought to be due to its spectacular plumage. This bird was named after M. Massena, the Duke of Rivoli, in 1829 by French naturalist, Rene P. Lesson, because of its royal appearance. For those interested in viewing hummingbirds, southeastern Arizona during the spring or fall migration may host most of the 14 species of hummingbirds that are found in North America.
This species of hummingbird is one of the largest hummingbirds in the United States. Depending on what sources you consult, this bird is sometimes considered to be the largest of our North American hummingbirds. The male is green above and black below, having a metallic purple crown and forehead and an iridescent green gorget or throat. The male bears bold contrasting colors, with iridescent purple crown, green throat, and black belly. The female is duller in overall color, green above and gray below. The female also has a lightly streaked throat and its outer tail feathers are pearly gray. The Juvenile male of the species shows plumage that is intermediate between that of adult male and adult female. The Juvenile female resembles adult female, but with gray-buff fringes on feathers of upper parts.
The Magnificent Hummingbird is mainly a Central American species. It can be found as far south as Nicaragua, through the tablelands of Guatemala and Mexico, and barely crossing our southern border into the mountains of southern Arizona and New Mexico and it can also be found in western Texas. It was added to our fauna by Henry W. Henshaw in 1875, when he found the first specimen at Camp Grant, Arizona in the 18th century.
The flight of this hummingbird is somewhat different from that of other hummingbirds. The Magnificent Hummingbird is a large, heavily bodied bird, and its flight, though swift, is somewhat slower in proportion to its size than that of the smaller species. Its wing strokes are less rapid, and it indulges in occasional periods of sailing on set wings, much after the manner of a swift.
The Magnificent Hummingbird winters in Mexico. It arrives in Arizona in May, but it isn’t plentiful until about the middle of June, which is when the mescal shrubs begin to blossom. The habitat for this bird is humid forest, primarily in edge and clearings, pastures, open woodland, pine-oak association and scrubby areas.
The nest of the Magnificent Hummingbird is composed of mosses that are woven into an almost circular cup. The interior consist of a lining of the softest and downiest feathers. The exterior is covered with lichens, which are held on by silk from spiders’ webs. It can often be found on the horizontal limb of an alder tree.
Not much has been published on the food of Rivoli’s hummingbird. They are believed to like honeysuckle and are especially fond of the blossoms of the mescal. The mescal is generally infested by numerous small insects, which these birds will feed.
Like most other hummingbirds, this hummingbird usually lays two eggs. These are like other hummingbirds’ eggs, pure white, without gloss, and varying from oval to elliptical-oval, sometimes slightly elliptical and shaped like an egg. At birth, the young are helpless.
There is no immediate conservation concern for this particular species of hummingbird. There is some concern that habitat destruction may be a problem in Mexico and Central America, but specific effects of this potential problem have been documented at the present time.