All About Birds Blog

Summertime in the United States of Hummingbirds

By on Tuesday, July 29th, 2014 - 15 Comments

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Hummingbird Occurence map

Four species of hummers cover most of the continental U.S. What about the rest of the species? Click the image to explore the ranges of 10 North American species at our Citizen Science blog.

Hummingbirds are special—brilliant, tiny, precision-flying creatures that glitter like jewels in the sun and dazzle with their aerial acrobatics, flying fast then stopping instantly, hovering, and zipping up, down, or backwards with exquisite control.

They’re strictly a New World animal, and they fascinated the first Europeans who arrived in North America. Christopher Columbus wrote about them. Many naturalists at the time wondered if they were a cross between a bird and an insect (at one point being called “flybirds”).

More than a dozen species of hummingbirds regularly summer in the United States, including these four that are most commonly seen at backyard feeders:

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds depart for Central America in early fall, with many crossing the Gulf of Mexico in a single flight. To accomplish this incredible migratory feat, they feast on nectar and insects and double their body mass, from 3 grams to 6 grams (or from the weight of a penny to the weight of a nickel). Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have the largest breeding range of any North American hummer.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird &, Black-chinned Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (left) by Laura Erickson, Black-chinned Hummingbird (right) by Brian Sullivan.

Black-chinned Hummingbirds are the most adaptable of all North American hummingbirds, found from deserts to mountain forests and from urban areas to pristine natural areas. The Black-chinned Hummingbird’s tongue has two grooves that suck up nectar like a sponge. Then the bird retracts the tongue and squeezes the nectar into its mouth.

Anna’s Hummingbirds are dazzling with iridescent emerald feathers and sparkling rose-pink throats. Nineteenth-century French naturalist René Primevère Lesson was mesmerized by “the bright sparkle of a red cap of the richest amethyst” on the male’s head and named it after the French duchess of Rivoli, Anna de Belle Masséna. These hummingbirds live along the Pacific Coast and in many areas are present year-round.

Anna’s Hummingbird & Rufous Hummingbird

Anna’s Hummingbird (left) by Nancy Starczyk, Rufous Hummingbird (right) by Chris Wood.

Rufous Hummingbirds are small but feisty. They chase off larger hummingbirds at flowers and feeders, and they’ve even been seen chasing away chipmunks. Rufous Hummingbirds have the northernmost breeding range of any hummingbird, yet in fall they migrate about 4,000 miles south to Mexico—in what is possibly the longest migration relative to body size of any bird.

More about hummingbirds:

 

(Image at top: Ruby-throated Hummingbird by Kevin Click via Birdshare)

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15 Comments

  1. We regularly have both RTHU and BCHU nesting in Chickasha, OK . . . about 75% are BCHU. I have found nine nests this 2014 season, which is about normal for each year. I am certain BCHU nest in the Lawton, OK area as well as the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge and on up through the Oklahoma Panhandle.

    I have never understood why Cornell range maps never list BCHU for our area although various people report BCHU for our area. When someone from Cornell is contacted they always say “We are updating our information” but the maps and information is never updated!

    I suggest you contact Dr. Chris Butler (Cornell graduate) at The University of Central Oklahoma, who is fully aware of BCHU and RTHU nesting in the Chickasha area. Dr. Butler and a few of his students banded hummingbirds in our backyard on July 22, 2014 and also photographed hummingbird nests. At this time we have a BCHU nest on a limb hanging down over our driveway.

    Sincerely,
    Dick Ledbetter
    3103 Frisco Avenue
    Chickasha, OK 73018-1304

    • Hugh says:

      Hi – thanks for writing in about this. We definitely believe you that you have Black-chinned Hummingbirds in Oklahoma! It can take a long time to revamp a whole set of range maps—but we do link from each species account in All About Birds to their eBird occurrence maps. For Black-chinned Hummingbirds, their clearly shown across much of Oklahoma, and you can zoom in and find even a few reports from around Chickasha. (If you haven’t added your own sightings to eBird, we’d love it if you would!) Here’s the link to the eBird map for the species: http://ebird.org/ebird/map/bkchum I hope this helps and thanks for your patience with our range maps. – Hugh

  2. Carole says:

    We live in Western Washington State and the Ruby Throated are visitors to our yard all year. According to your map we should see the Rufous, we have never seen one.

    • Rachael says:

      Carole, we see both here in South Central Oregon, mostly in spring so it may be they are just missing your neighborhood.

      The migration seems to include many but some are just passing through, I get pictures when I can – even a Calliope last year and a Lucifer!
      Perhaps the climate change is changing migration patterns.

  3. Patricia Huffman says:

    I live in NC so all we have are Ruby-throats. I put out my feeders every April 1st. The earliest I have seen one is April 11. We were in Alaska July 1991. We were told there were not any hummers there. We saw them in the beautiful flowers and it made me so happy.

  4. Susan Oberholtzer says:

    I live on the central coast of CA. I have Allens hummers through here twice a year on their migration route. They stay about a month around the feeders. So cute!

  5. Terri Beard says:

    How to attract hummingbirds when you have large trees in your yard?

  6. Terri Beard says:

    Sorry I forgot to mention I live in West Texas. Lubbock, Tx.

  7. Terri Beard says:

    Lastly, I have SEVERAL white winged dove in the area are hummingbirds afraid of them? Thank you for your time.

  8. Hummingbirds are so cute..!! I felt in love with them, they are so beautiful. I have seen them many times, they are really, a new world animal.

  9. Laura Moore says:

    My mother is in a nursing home in Eastern Kentucky now. She always lived just across the river in Southern Ohio and feeding RTHU was a passion of hers. We got permission from the nursing home to hang a feeder outside her window; it took a little while but she was so thrilled when they showed up and started feeding. What surprised her most was how many aids and nurses had never seen one before! So now she gets extra company and longer visits thanks to those RTHU who sometimes flutter as if they are watching her in the room to thank her for the feed.

  10. Bill and Alice says:

    Hi.. we have noticed a few ruby throat birds this year in our back yard,they appear to be feeding under the large Black pines ….what are they attracted to…?insects ,the pine sap….there also is a barrel recycler in the area…
    they are great to see,since it has been difficult to attract them up to now…thanx Albil

    • Hugh says:

      Hi – hummingbirds often pick insects from spiderwebs as a key source of protein. Could this have been what you saw? – Hugh

  11. Bill and Alice says:

    Sorry, i failed to mention …we are in Brigantine,New jersey

  12. Walter Baines says:

    Sept 14 still have a few RT in Rockmart Ga have had many all summer I WILL MISS THEM WHEN THEY LEAVE I keep the feeder up until they freeze That is mid Nov.

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