Hummingbird Identification – 6 Characteristics to Identify Hummingbirds By Region

hummingbird identification

Six easy methods of identification for a hummingbird is to look at the overall color of the bird, observe the gorget (throat area), shape of the tail, overall size, and the coloring of their bill. The most important reference for identification is the hummingbirds migration map.

With over 361 known hummingbird species, how do you know what variety is visiting your feeders? Hummingbird identification can be challenging. With their small size and shared characteristics, a wide variety of hummingbirds can start to look similar.

Bird identification is easier when looking at specific characteristics of hummers. Though the species share similar patterns and basic colors, each variety has unique coloring that helps identify them.

This article explains the differences in color patterns, sizes, and hummingbird ranges that allow even inexperienced bird watchers to identify which species of hummingbirds visit their area.

Basics Of Hummingbird Identification

There are at least 14 varieties of hummingbirds that visit and breed in North America. Identifying different hummingbird species depends on many factors but the best method of identification starts with the coloring on their body.

Look specifically at these characteristics for hummingbird identification:

  1. The color of their throat feathers (called a gorget)
  2. The color of their back, body, underbelly
  3. The shape, color, and banding of their tail feathers
  4. The size, length, and coloring of their beak (or bill)
  5. Overall body size
  6. Their range or area

How Can I Tell If A Hummingbird Is Male Or Female?

In general, female hummingbirds have duller colors than males. Since the females must sit on the nest and raise the young, they must blend in with their environments. Adult male hummingbirds have bright colors that they use to attract females for breeding. Juveniles are often duller in color than the females but have similar coloring as the adults of their variety.

Hummingbird Ranges

When identifying which type of hummingbird is at your feeder, check if that variety has been sighted in your area. Though sometimes migrant hummingbirds visit new territories, they typically stay within the their ranges for the most part.

Hummingbird ranges are expanding, and migrants may be spotted more often as the worlds climate continues to evolve. Hummingbird populations continue to evolve, with some species beginning to work their way into new territories.

Several hummingbirds, including the Lucifer, Broad Billed, and Blue-Throated Mountain-Gem, are found only in the southern US near Mexico. A majority of hummingbird species are found in Ecuador and the neighboring countries of south America. The Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, however, is found in most of the US and parts of Canada.

Shared Characteristics

Hummingbird identification is challenging because so many varieties have metallic gorgets and green coloring on their bodies. Females and males of multiple species have green backs or tail feathers. Generally, hummingbirds are between 2 and 4 inches in size and weigh a few grams.

The smallest hummingbird is the Calliope Hummingbird. These birds are about 3 inches long and weigh about 1/10 of an ounce. The largest hummingbird in North America is the Blue Hummingbird or Blue-Throated Mountain Gem, measuring 5” and 7.6 grams.

rufous hummingbird

Varieties of Hummingbirds

Rufous Hummingbird

Rufous hummingbirds have a glowing overall appearance that look like an amber orange with notes of auburn in their plumage. The hummingbirds are the easiest to remember and tell a part because their coloring is concentrated in one color spectrum: orange.

  • Area: The western US, including California, Colorado, Arizona, and parts of Texas, and into Alaska; through northwest Canada into British Columbia; and when migrating near the Gulf of Mexico
  • Gender Identification
    • Males: orange-red throat, orange upper-parts, white chest, forked tail
    • Females: greener, black or spotted throat, tail with white tips
  • Size: 4”; 3.6 grams
  • Habitat: meadows, shrubs, forests, urban areas

Anna’s Hummingbird

  • Area: stays close to the Pacific coast, moving up and down the mountains as the flowers bloom
  • Gender Identification
    • Males: rose-pink on throat and crown of the head; forked tail; stocky in size
    • Females: metallic green, duller in color, red speckled throat, the tail has white tips
  • Size: 3.9” and 4.3 grams
  • Habitat: comfortable at hummingbird feeders, likes open habitats and coastal scrub plants.

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

The Ruby-Throated Hummingbird has the widest migration range of any North American hummingbird. This hummer is found in the eastern 2/3 of the US and into Mexico.

  • Area: extremely common in much of the eastern and Central US and down into Mexico and Central America; can live year-round in the extreme Southern US.
  • Gender Identification
    • Males: red throat feathers, bright green body, white underbelly
    • Females: white throat feathers, duller green body, tail with white tips, and black band
  • Size: 3.7”, 3.2 grams
  • Habitat: enjoys orchards, backyards, forests
migration of hummingbirds 53

Black-Chinned Hummingbird

  • Area: much of the Western US, including Texas, Arizona, Nevada, Oregon, the Rocky Mountains, and into extreme southern British Columbia
  • Gender Identification
    • Males: black chin with purple band, white breast
    • Females: greenish-brown crown, an extremely long bill, tail with large black band and large white tips
    • Juveniles: spotted throat
  • Size: 3.7”, 2.7 grams
  • Habitat: forests, backyards, woodlands, dry scrub

Broad-Tailed Hummingbird

  • Area: West-Central US, including Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas; overwinters in Mexico
  • Gender Identification
    • Males: rosy-red gorget, white breast, tail feathers lined with orange
    • Females: buff-colored (light brownish-yellow) flanks, orange on the upper side of the tail
  • Size: 4”, 3.6 grams
  • Habitat: pine or oak, open woodlands, higher meadows

Costa’s Hummingbird

  • Area: small area of the southwest, including Southern California, western Arizona; western Mexico
  • Gender Identification
    • Males: iridescent purple crown, white eyebrow, elongated purple gorget
    • Females: white underparts and white patch above the eye, large black band and white spots on the tail, her tail tip meets her wing tips
  • Size: 3.5”, 3.1 grams
  • Habitat: Coastal California, sage scrub, desert

Allen’s Hummingbird

  • Area: California coast and a small part of central Mexico
  • Gender Identification
    • Males: orange-red throat with a white crescent, pointy tail feathers with black tips
    • Females: orange-red spots on throat, white breast, orange at the base of tail feathers
  • Size: 3.78”, 3.1 grams
  • Habitat: coastal scrub

Broad-Billed Hummingbird

  • Area: Southeast Arizona and into Mexico, up to the Rocky Mountains
  • Gender Identification
    • Males: red bill, dark notched tail, bright green with blue on chest and throat
    • Females: gray underparts, dull white throat, red mandible, white tips on tail
  • Size: 4”, 1.9 grams
  • Habitat: land on the edges of rivers or streams and canyons under 6500 feet

Calliope Hummingbird

  • Area: parts of British Columbia, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Utah, Nevada, and California, into the Rocky Mountains; winters in Mexico
  • Gender Identification
    • Males: streaked rosy gorget, has a white line from the base of the bill to the neck
    • Females: speckled throat, buffy underparts, broad black band on the tail, the tail has white spots
  • Size: 3.25”, 2.7 grams
  • Habitat: forest edges, low scrub plants, mountains 1200-3400 feet in elevation
buff bellied hummingbird

Buff-Bellied Hummingbird

Buff refers to a light brown-yellow coloring

  • Area: Eastern Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana Gulf Coast area
  • Identifiers
    • Males: buff-colored belly, bright green head, upper back, and breast, orange tail, red beak
    • Females: duller in color than males, but with the same coloring overall minus the orange tail feathers
  • Size: 4.3”, 4.8 grams
  • Habitat: parks, edges of forest, gardens

Violet-Crowned Hummingbird

  • Area: Central Mexico, with some sightings in extreme southern Arizona
  • Gender Identification
    • Males: red bill, pure white breast, and throat, violet crown
    • Females: same coloring as male
  • Size: 5.5”, 5.5 grams
  • Habitat: scrub, deciduous canyons between 1200 and 1700 feet, Arizona sycamore tree

Blue-Throated Hummingbird/Blue-Throated Mountain-Gem

  • Area: Central Mexico, with sightings in Arizona and New Mexico
  • Gender Identification
    • Males: blue throat, double white line marking outlining the eye, white tips on tail
    • Females: brown rump, gray underbelly, same eye, and tail markings
  • Size: 5”, 7.6 grams
  • Habitat: woodlands and mountain forests, rare at low elevations and prefers to stay between 4500 and 11500 feet

Lucifer Hummingbird

  • Area: Central Mexico, into Arizona and New Mexico
  • Identifiers
    • Males: long purple/magenta gorget, long curved bill, buffy flanks, white breast, dark and forked tail
    • Females: buffy breast, rufous tail, long curved bill
    • Juveniles: look like the female
  • Size: 3.7”, 3.1 grams
  • Habitat: shrubs and scrubs between 3500 and 5500 feet in elevation

Magnificent Hummingbird (Rivoli’s Hummingbird)

Originally named Rivoli’s Hummingbird, scientists changed its name to Magnificent Hummingbird in 1983. In 2017, scientists split the hummingbird into two varieties, reclassifying Rivoli’s Hummingbird as the species that lives between the US and Nicaragua. This variety has a purple gorget. 

Scientists named the other variety the Talamanca Hummingbird, which has a blue gorget. 

  • Area: Nicaragua to the southern tip of Arizona and New Mexico
  • Gender Identification
    • Males: purple crown, iridescent green throat, dark green body, white dot behind the eye
    • Females: bronze-green upper-parts, dull gray-white underbelly, white dot behind eye
  • Size: 5.25”, 7 grams
  • Habitat: mountainous areas above 1500 feet, oak forests, scrubby areas

White-Eared Hummingbird

  • Area: Mostly in Mexico and Central America, sightings in the southwestern US
  • Identifiers
    • Males: green upper-parts and breast, white under the tail, bronze-green tail
    • Females: similar in color
  • Size: 3.25”, 3-4 grams
  • Habitat: pine-oak woods, mountain canyons, higher mountains

Green Violet-ear Hummingbird/Mexican Violet-Ear Hummingbird

  • Area: South-central Mexico, down to Panama, into Bolivia and Venezuela, some sightings in the southern US, and even a few sightings into Canada
  • Identifiers
    • Males: green upper feathers, bronze tail and rump, dark blue band at the end of the tail, violet band on the chin which connects to a violet ear
    • Females: similar in color, narrow violet band on the chin
  • Size: 4”, 5 grams
  • Habitat: trees, scrubs, humid habitats

By looking at the characteristics of the hummingbirds at your feeder, you will be able to identify which species has come to your area! To check out a full list of hummingbirds by States, check out this guide!

Sarah Pearce

Sarah enjoys feeding hummingbirds in the warmer months, and a range of finches, woodpeckers, and cardinals in the cooler months. She enjoys researching and learning more about birds, gardening, and preserving food. She is learning how to maximize her small city backyard and is amazed at all the possibilities. She lives in southwestern Indiana with her family.

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