In some species, telling the males apart from the females can be a challenge – they look almost identical. However, for most birds, that is not the case; you can usually distinguish between the sexes relatively easily, especially during the breeding season.
This is true of hummingbirds. It is surprisingly easy to tell these little fluttering birds apart, even when they’re zipping from flower to flower and darting about. If you’re lucky enough to have hummingbirds frequenting your area, here are some simple tips on how to identify male and female hummingbirds.
We’ll look at some general guides first, and then explore the differences between the sexes for a few different types of hummingbird in more detail.
Identify male and female hummingbirds
Brightly Colored Males
Hummingbirds are pretty famous for their astonishing array of colors. They are like little gems, hovering and fluttering and buzzing about in a dazzling sparkle of different hues. Almost all of that fame is down to the males, not the females.
Most wild birds have males that adopt flamboyant colors to attract females – while the females, who often need to sit on nests and conceal themselves in the bushes, tend to be drab. This helps to keep them camouflaged, and since they don’t need to compete for mates, they can forgo the eye-catching colors.
That means that if the bird zipping about the feeder is flashing and radiant in the light, it’s likely a male, while if it is dull colors and harder to spot, it will be a female.
Many female hummingbirds are a little larger than their male counterparts. This isn’t quite as easy to detect as the colors, especially if the birds are moving about quickly, but it may still help you to distinguish between the sexes.
Females tend to be a little heavier because their bodies need to be able to cope with egg production and with the additional drain of incubating eggs. Females are also usually the ones which care for their chicks.
Many female hummingbirds are up to 25% bigger than the males of the same type, but this can be hard to judge if you’re watching the birds zipping about, and it isn’t a blanket rule which applies to all 300 kinds of hummingbird. If you’re trying to distinguish between genders, there are easier ways to tell.
You can also check our article ” How long are hummingbirds beak” to know some interesting facts about hummingbirds.
Male hummingbirds are usually more aggressive than female hummingbirds. They will actively chase away rivals and guard their territory. They also sing a lot, often a sort of angry chirping, to frighten off other males or attract females.
Demonstrating their strength and vitality is a good way for them to attract mates and to reduce the competition they’re facing. Male hummingbirds may flap their wings very fast, producing that distinctive “humming” sound to show off their strength and drive away potential rivals with demonstrations of prowess.
With that said, females will attack males if they come close to their nests or chicks, so seeing a hummingbird chasing another does not guarantee that the bird is male. You should look at other factors as well.
As mentioned, male hummingbirds will chirp to drive away or bicker with rivals, but they will also sing to impress potential mates. If you observe a hummingbird engaged in a lengthy, complex song, it’s almost certainly a male trying to court a female.
Female hummingbirds make plenty of noise themselves, but they don’t sing for extended periods of time. They usually make short, sharp noises to warn off predators or lay claim to a space where they are rearing their babies.
If you see a hummingbird building a nest, you’re watching a female. Male hummingbirds don’t share in the nest-building or chick-rearing duties. So, if a hummingbird is carrying twigs, returning repeatedly to the same spot, and carrying food to that spot is certainly female.
If you are on a migration route for hummingbirds, this can also give you a hint about which birds are male and which are female, because the males often start to migrate earlier than the females.
That means the first arrivals in your garden are likely to be males, while latecomers are probably females. However, this rule isn’t hard and fast, so it’s best to look at other factors as well.
The Magnificent Hummingbird
Aptly named, the magnificent hummingbird has very striking and beautiful coloration – or at least, the males do. With green throats, purple crowns, and black breasts, these little birds glow like jewels as they dart around the garden.
They are the type many people commonly associate with the term hummingbird, and are among the most beautiful of the species.
The Anna’s Hummingbird
The male of this species has a bright head and throat, with red or pink feathers adorning it in splendid vividness. These hummingbirds tend to be medium and quite stockily built, and most of their feathers are gray and green.
The females are dull and usually have dark heads with pale brown bodies.
Unsurprisingly, the male ruby-throated hummingbird has a very bright red throat. Most of its body is pale, with mottled green wings and a slightly darker green head. The throat is very striking in color, and it’s easy to see how it would catch a female’s attention as the little bird flits around the trees.
Female ruby-throated hummingbirds are plain, with light chests and dark heads, lending themselves perfect camouflage in the bushes.
Once again, it won’t surprise you to learn that this species of hummingbird has males with brilliant blue throats. The blue-throated hummingbird is otherwise a nondescript brown, but that flash of vivid color really makes it stand out – which is just what it wants when it comes to females.
The females, again, are plain and drab-looking birds, gently speckled brown with rounded tail feathers.
It’s not hard to tell male and female hummingbirds apart for a number of reasons, but the easiest to spot – especially if the birds are zipping about at speed – is the color.
Even if you don’t know the type of hummingbird, you can still easily distinguish a male from a female by looking for the telltale bright flashes of color which he is using to lure in mates.