1. The Parts of a Hummingbird:
The bright-colored area on the
throat and chin is called a gorget. Female hummingbirds do not have a gorget.
|In some species there is also a
bright-colored area on the forehead and crown. This is called a helmet.
It is a good idea to
look at the tail. See if it has white or rufous spots. Where are they on the tail? How big
Be sure to look at the bill. Some
species have unusually long bills and some have relatively short bills. In a few species
the bill is bright red.
2. Status and Distribution
|You should know basic information
about your area. In the eastern half of the United States, there is usually only one
species: the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird. In the west several species are possible. A
state by state list of the hummingbirds to be expected in
various regions of the United States and Canada is on our
Rarely, hummingbirds show up in
the east in winter. If they do, they seldom are Ruby-Throats. The strongest possibility is
Rufous Hummingbird, but others are possible.
In the west, the most common hummingbird is the
Black-Chinned, but others can be more common in particular areas. In spring and fall
migration, the Rufous Hummingbird may be the most common.
In coastal California, the Anna's Hummingbird
and the Allen's Hummingbird are common. In desert areas the Costa's Hummingbird may be
In the Rocky Mountains the common hummingbirds
are the Broad-Tailed and the Calliope.
In the Northwest, in western Canada, and in
Alaska, the Rufous Hummingbird is common in summer.
In the Rio Grande Valley of Texas one might see
a Buff-Bellied Hummingbird.
More exotic species occur in the Big Bend area
of Texas and in southwestern New Mexico and especially in
southeastern Arizona. At our summer place in the Chiricahua Mountains we have seen as
many as nine species in a single day--and a few additional species on other days. We have
seen 15 species within two miles!
A couple more extremely rare hummers are
possible in the Florida keys.
Local Audubon societies and bird clubs can
provide you with information about status and distribution in your area.
3. Learn the Males
This is easy. Get a field guide. Also, look at
the pictures on this web sites.
4. Learn the Females
This is not easy. Study the field guide
carefully. Remember status and distribution. Use information in this list:
- Female Ruby-Throats and Female Black-Chins are,
for all practical purposes, not distinguishable in the field. If you want to make an
educated guess, remember that female Black-Chins usually have a longer bill and they pump
their tails. Both are green (not rufous) at the base of the tail. The
black-chinned may be more gray on the crown.
- Certain female hummingbirds have rufous in the
tail -- especially at the base of the tail. These include Rufous, Allen's, Broad-Tailed
- Rufous and Allen's females are not normally
distinguishable in the field. Banders say the tail feathers in Allen's are narrower and
more pointed, but this is virtually impossible to see. Both Rufous and Allen's have a
rufous wash on the flanks. It is unwise to identify an Allen's Hummingbird away from its
breeding grounds in California unless the bird is a male with a full gorget and a green
back. (We have seen such a bird during early fall migration in Arizona.)
- Female Calliope Hummingbirds have an
apricot-colored wash on their underparts. They have a short, very straight bill and a
short green tail with white corners. When perched, the wings should extend beyond the
tail. They tend to feed lower on flowering plants than most other hummingbirds. Be
cautious in this identification.
- Female Costa's Hummingbirds are small. They have
a medium-length straight bill, and very white underparts. They have a green crown
and white cheeks. (Black-chins usually have gray crowns and pale gray cheeks.) Costa's
Hummingbirds often seem a little plump. Their throats may have faint dots. The
flanks are green.
- The female Broad-Tailed Hummer is a little larger
than the Rufous or Allen's Hummingbird. She has pale rufous flanks and a small amount of
rufous on the tail. Be cautious with this one, too.
- The female Anna's Hummingbird usually has fine
red spots on the throat. Her underparts. are usually dingy gray. Her flanks are green.
Her bill is long and straight. In our experience we have noticed that she
holds her tail perfectly still while feeding.
- The female Blue-Throated and Magnificent
Hummingbirds are quite large. The Blue-Throat has much more extensive white areas on the
tail. The Blue-Throat has more of a whisker mark; she also is smoothly gray on the
- The female Lucifer has a decurved (arched) bill.
She has a big whisker mark. Her underparts are buffy. This hummingbird is found only in
localized areas near the Mexican border.
- The female Broad-Billed Hummingbird has a red
bill. Her underparts are gray. Her flanks are green.
- The female White-Eared is localized near the
Mexican border in Arizona. It is similar to the female Broad-Billed Hummingbird, but has a
shorter bill, a much bolder eye stripe, and green speckling on the throat.
- Be sure your "hummingbird is not a moth.
Moths of North
America, if your "hummingbird" was small, brown, and striped. It may
be a sphinx moth.
For more information about rarities in the U.S.,