Hummingbirds are amazing backyard visitors, and while they are instantly recognizable because of their tiny size, hovering flight and needle-like bills, how can you tell which hummingbird is which? Many backyard birders don’t realize there are more than 300 hummingbird species in the world – which ones are visiting your yard?
Where Hummingbirds Live
The majority of hummingbird species live in the lush, tropical habitats of Central America and South America, where they thrive year-round. Only a few dozen species are regularly seen further north, and only about 20 hummingbirds make regular appearances in the United States and Canada. Not all of them are widespread or regular visitors, but backyard birders who are familiar with different hummers can better tell them apart and appreciate the details that make each one special.
Your Backyard Hummers
Which of these hummingbirds makes the most visits to your flowers and feeders?
- Ruby-Throated Hummingbird – This is the most common eastern hummingbird, and the only one regularly seen in the eastern United States. Their range extends to the eastern regions of the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, and a few stay the winter in the southernmost tip of Florida. Males are recognizable by their strawberry red throats, green vest and forked tail, while females are green above and plain white below.
- Black-Chinned Hummingbird – A common summer resident in the Rocky Mountain region, these hummingbirds can be found as far west as eastern Oregon and Washington, and they are also visitors to western Colorado and into Arizona and New Mexico. The bright purple collar of males is a great clue to their identity, though females are less distinct with green upperparts and white bellies.
- Anna’s Hummingbird – These hummers are year-round residents along the Pacific Coast from Vancouver to Baja California. Inland, they can be found throughout southern California and into southwestern Arizona. Males have a pink head and throat with gray-green underparts, while females are plainer but do show a streaked throat that may have bits of pink glitter.
- Costa’s Hummingbird – These jewels are year-round residents in southern California, southwestern Arizona and northern Baja, but in the summer they stretch out as far as southern Nevada. Males are easy to recognize by the purple-pink feathers on the head and throat that extend into long, sharp corners. Females are plain with gray-green above and grayish-white below.
- Broad-Tailed Hummingbird – These hummingbirds are often mistaken for ruby-throats because of the male’s bright red throat and green vest, but he shows a dash of rust in the tail that ruby-throats lack. Females have a streaked throat and buffy sides with green upperparts. These western hummingbirds are found in summers from southern Idaho and western Wyoming to western Colorado and as far south as Arizona, New Mexico and western Texas.
- Rufous Hummingbird – One of the feistiest hummingbirds, the male rufous hummingbird is easily recognized by his brilliant orange throat, orange plumage and sharply pointed tail. Females have buffy-orange flanks and may show an orange splotch on the throat. These hummers are summer visitors from Alaska to northern California and throughout the Pacific Northwest as far inland as western Wyoming. In winter, a few hardy birds travel all the way to Florida and the southeast.
- Allen’s Hummingbird – These are bold hummingbirds and males have orange throats and green backs, while females have buff-orange flanks and streaked throats. They are found all summer along coastal California and north to the southwestern corner of Oregon, but are not quite as aggressive as their rufous cousins.
- Calliope Hummingbird – The smallest of North America’s hummingbirds, calliope males show pink streaks on their throat, while females have faintly buff flanks and a streaked throat. These are lovely birds that can be seen from southern British Columbia to Washington, Oregon and Idaho to northern California, Nevada and as far east as western Montana.
While there are many lovely hummers that may show up at feeders across the United States, certain areas are fortunate to have even more amazing hummingbirds as regular guests. In the richly diverse region of southern Arizona, specialty hummers such as the broad-billed hummingbird with its red bill, the blue-throated hummingbird with an ashy blue throat, the purple-capped violet-crowned hummingbird, the boldly iridescent Lucifer hummingbird and the large magnificent hummingbird may all appear.
Meanwhile, southern Texas also has its share of regionally unique hummingbird visitors. The deeply colored buff-bellied hummingbird is one such guest, and the brilliant green and purple green violet-ear is another. On rare occasions, the large green-breasted mango also makes appearances, much to the delight of local birders.
No matter where you live, you can enjoy the company of one or more beautiful hummingbirds at your feeders. By understanding the differences between these tiny birds, you will better be able to appreciate their subtle beauty and uniqueness. Even better, you can more quickly recognize an unusual hummingbird that might just pay your feeders a friendly visit!