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The 4 Hummingbird Species in New York: Rare birds with striking appearances

The 4 Hummingbird Species in New York: Rare birds with striking appearances

Hummingbirds are some of the most interesting birds in the animal kingdom. Even though their eggs are the size of a jelly bean, they can travel thousands of miles every year and fly faster than 60 mph!

When most people think of however hummingbirds, they might think of the tropics. But there is a good possibility to find different types of hummingbirds in New York if you’re a good spotter!

Many hummingbirds are migratory and only 4 species have been spotted in New York in recent years, with only 1 species breeding in the state.

If you want to know the differences between these rare and beautiful birds, this article is the right one for you, as we discover the 4 different species of hummingbirds in the state of New York.

1. Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

  • Scientific name – Archilochus colubris
  • Lifespan – 3-5 years
  • Size – 7 to 9 cm (2.8 to 3.5 in)
  • Weight – 2 to 6 g (0.071 to 0.212 oz)
  • Wingspan – 8 to 11 cm (3.1 to 4.3 in)
  • Status – Least concern

This species of hummingbird is sexually dimorphic, meaning that the appearance of the females and males differ. The males are bright green on the back and crown, with a greyish underside and the males have an iridescent red throat, while the females appear green on the back and white underneath with brownish crowns and sides.

Being the only breeding hummingbird species in eastern North America, the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird migrate south to Central America during the winter. Some individuals will migrate over the Gulf of Mexico, while some will migrate through Texas around the coast.

Ruby-throated hummingbird sucking nectar from a wild plant.
A Ruby-Throated Hummingbird sucking nectar from a wild plant.

After wintering in the south, the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird starts to arrive in the United States in the middle of February, while they will arrive in Canada from May.

This bird species is amongst the most aggressive of the hummingbirds, being very territorial and aggressive towards other birds, often chasing them away from their favourite flowers.

Nesting

Dancing is not only for humans. A lot of the male birds have unique dances, and the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird is no exception! The males will fly back and forth in a U-shape in front of the selected female. Each time he passes her he makes a hissing sound. If the female is impressed by the dance, they will mate and start to nest.

The nest is carefully made in large shrubs or trees up to 50 feet above the ground to evade predators on land. The nest is made by the female on small branches hidden well behind leaves. The nest is made like a compact small cup from different natural materials such as, grasses, spider webs, branches and feathers.

Sometimes the birds will also use man-made objects like cigarette filters, linen and cotton. When the female is done making the nest she will lay around 2 eggs and camouflage it. The female will feed the young for around 20 days, after which they will leave the nest.

Diet

Like most other hummingbirds, their primary food source is nectar from flowers, especially the Trumpet Vine (Campsis radicans).

However, small insects and spiders are also a key ingredient in its diet, and an important source for protein for the bird. The birds will feed from flowers by using a long and extendable tongue, which it also uses to catch insects from flowers, leaves, and bark on trees or shrubs.

Conservation

The Ruby-Throated Hummingbird is not endangered and is marked as ‘Least Concern (LC)’ on IUCN’s red list of endangered species.

This does not mean that the birds have an easy life. Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds regularly crash into window panels causing them either to die or fall to the ground being easy prey for predators.

Outdoor cats and other predators are a great threat for the birds, as they will prey on their eggs and chicks. Projects have been made to inform cat-owners of the potential havoc their beloved pets can cause for birds.

Habitat loss is also a great threat to this species, as changes in the usage of land, can lead to a decrease in the amount of flowering plants available for the birds to feed on.

Another great threat is something we see with other animals in the wild; habitat loss. Both their breeding grounds in the United States and their wintering grounds in Central America are shrinking and thus making it harder for the population to grow.

Where to look for them

Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds are very common in suburbs and small towns throughout New York and gather around flowering gardens and woodland edges. They are easiest to spot during the height of summer when most flowers are blooming, and they can even get so bold to come visit your garden if you the right flowers or feeders!

2. Anna’s Hummingbird

  • Scientific name – Calypte anna
  • Lifespan – 8-9 years
  • Size – 10 to 11 cm (3.9 to 4.3 in)
  • Weight – 2.8 to 5.7 g (0.1 to 0.2 oz)
  • Wingspan – 12 cm (4.7 in)
  • Status – Least concern

Unlike the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, Anna’s Hummingbird, named after the bride of a French Duke and ornithologist in the 1700’s, does not breed in the state of New York.

It’s native to the western coasts of the United States and is a rare visitor in New York with the last sighting being in 2017. They are also sexually dimorphic, with the male having a reddish-pink head as the only male hummingbird species in North America showing this color, while females having grayish underparts and often a dark patch in the center of the throat.

Anna's hummingbird sitting on a branch looking for insects
A male Anna’s Hummingbird sitting on a branch looking for insects

The males have an extremely pinkish crown and gorget, both of which are very iridescent making a sighting of this bird a quite fantastic experience.

Nesting

Giving their range in the warm west coast of the United States, their nesting may already begin as early as December.

Just like the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, the male Anna’s Hummingbird has a quite unique courtship display for the female. He hovers midair making a buzzing sound, and then flies much higher, after which he dives straight for the female while making loud explosive popping sounds at the end of the dive.

When the female is satisfied, they will mate and start the nesting stage.

The nesting site can vary quite a bit, usually on a low hanging branch of tree or shrub. The nests are usually made around 20 feet above ground but can be lower or higher depending on local conditions.

The nests are completely built by the females and consists of a compact sphere made of plant material and cobwebs. The inside is lined with plant, down from other birds and sometimes feathers and cigarette filters.

Diet

Anna’s Hummingbird is an important pollinator in its range. During the last 70 years, it has adapted to non-native vegetation found in peoples gardens but is still crucial to native plant species along the west coast, as it helps pollinate plant species that have matched their flowering pattern with the breeding and feeding patterns of Anna’s Hummingbirds.

Besides nectar and sap, Anna’s Hummingbirds also eat large amounts of insects, and is widely considered the most insect loving North American hummingbird. A nesting female can eat up to 2,000 insects a day!

Conservation

The Anna’s Hummingbird is not endangered and is marked as ‘Least Concern (LC)’ on IUCN’s red list of endangered species. Even though the bird is native to the west coast of the United States, the species have been observed in areas like Florida, Louisiana and New York.

Even though Anna’s Hummingbird face habitat loss, they seem to be sturdy enough to stand against it. In fact, since the 1950’s the species has expanded its breeding range and population greatly due to gardens with non-native flowering plant species having become more popular.

Where to look for them

Even though the birds are rare in New York you might be lucky to spot one. If you want success, you should look for woodland edges and places with a lot of shrubbery, where they like to hide.

You should also keep an eye on areas with a lot of flowering plants during the spring, and especially near eucalyptus trees and cultivated gardens. The males are often in the top branches of small trees or bushes, singing loudly and looking dazzling.

Listening for the male’s buzz is also a great way to localize them. The latest spottings of Anna’s Hummingbird were around Binghamton and Livingston manor, making these areas the most likely for you to find the bird.

3. Rufous Hummingbird

  • Scientific name – Selasphorus rufus
  • Lifespan – 3-5 years
  • Size – 8 cm (3.1 in)
  • Weight – 2–5 g (0.071–0.176 oz)
  • Wingspan – 11 cm (4.3 in)
  • Status – Near Threatened

The Rufous Hummingbird was last seen in the state of New York in Baldwinsville near Syracuse in 2021. Travelling from their breeding grounds in Northwest Alaska to their wintering grounds around Mexico and the Gulf Coast, some individuals decide to spend their winters in upstate New York.

The bird is one of the longest migrating bird species relative to their size, flying up to 4000 miles each way from breeding grounds to wintering grounds, despite only having a wingspan of 4.3 inches.

Rufous hummingbird using its small size to sit on a thorny branch, looking for insects to catch
A Rufous Hummingbird using its small size to sit on a thorny branch, looking for insects to catch.

Again, showing sexual dimorphia, the adult male has a white breast, brownish face, flanks and tail and a bright orange-red throat patch or gorget.

Some males even have green feathers on the back and/or the crown. The females however, have green, white, some bright orange feathers in the centre of the throat, and a very dark tail with white tips and brownish base.

A unique thing about this hummingbird is that the males and females use different areas for feeding. The males defend a smaller, but more densely flowering territory, while the females defend larger areas with more sparsely flowering areas, forcing them to fly further between food sources.

This phenomenon can be seen on the difference in wing size between the two sexes, with males having shorter wings than the females.

Nesting

Even though they might find food in different areas, they will eventually find each other when it’s time to mate. The male’s courtship dance is similar to that of Anna’s Hummingbirds, with a steep dive straight for the female while making loud explosive popping sounds at the end of the dive but he will also buzz back and forth in front of perched female.

Unlike the other hummingbirds of North America, the males may mate with several females in the same breeding season. This makes the nest building strictly a female activity, placing the nests well concealed in lower part of coniferous trees, deciduous shrubs and vines at around 15ft above ground.

The nests are like the other hummingbirds, made into a compact cup of grasses, moss, plant down, spider webs, cigarette filters and other soft materials, with the outside camouflaged with lichens and moss. Old nests from previous breeding seasons might be used again.

Diet

Like the other hummingbirds, their primary food source is nectar from flowers, especially flowers with reddish colors, such as penstemons (Penstemon sp.), red columbines (Aquilegia canadensis), paintbrush (Haemanthus albiflos), scarlet sage (Salvia splendens), and gilia (Gilia sp.).

However, small insects and spiders are also a key ingredient in its diet, and an important source for protein for the bird. The birds will feed from flowers by using a long and extendable tongue, which it also uses to catch insects from flowers, leaves, and bark on trees or shrubs.

Another great part of their diet is sugar-water mixtures found in hummingbird feeders by interested people.

Conservation

Being the only species on the list not listed as “Least concern” on IUCN’s list of red listed species, the Rufous Hummingbird is listed as “Near Threatened”, meaning that the species is vulnerable to endangerment. It was as late as 2018 they went from “Least concern” to “Near Threatened” and is due to their reliance on insects in the winter period.

Due to intensifying agriculture and pesticide use, these insect populations will become smaller, making it harder for the Rufous Hummingbird to find prey in the winter. Likewise, climate change has caused the flowers they rely on during the breeding season to bloom 2 weeks earlier than before, causing a mismatch between the bird’s arrival and the blooming of the flowers.

This mismatch could mean that the Rufous Hummingbird will arrive too late to feed on them.

Similar to the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, outdoor cats and other predators are a great threat for the birds, as they will prey on their eggs and chicks.

Where to look for them

With the last spotting of this bird in New York being in 2021, your chances of seeing it may be higher than you think. The highest concentration of this bird seems to be around Cortland, making this the ideal spot to find them.

Depending on climate, the birds will be more common during warm springs and summers. The Rufous Hummingbird like to use flowering gardens and gardens with feeders on their migration routes. If you have the availability and live on their migration route, this would be the best way to spot this magnificent bird.

But beware, because the bird is extremely territorial and will likely scare other hummingbirds and other birds away. They won’t, however, stay for long, only lingering in yards for around week or two until moving on to another spot. If you don’t have access to this, lowlands during spring in meadows, woodland edges and field with a lot of red flowers will be your best chance of seeing it.

During late summer and fall they will move further up mountains and reside in mountain meadows before heading south for the winter.

4. Calliope Hummingbird

  • Scientific name – Selasphorus calliope
  • Lifespan – 5-7 years
  • Size – 7 to 10 cm (2.8 to 3.9 in)
  • Weight – 2 to 3 g (0.071 to 0.106 oz)
  • Wingspan – 8-11 cm (3.1 to 4.3 in)
  • Status – Least concern

Being the smallest bird found in the United States, the Calliope Hummingbird also has it’s breeding grounds in the western Canada and United States, and only being a rare visitor in New York. It was last seen near Water Mill on Long Island back in 2016.

Like it’s cousin The Rufous Hummingbird, this species also travels extreme distances from breeding grounds to wintering grounds, easily covering 2500 miles each way on their yearly journey.

Despite its small size, the Calliope Hummingbird can survive the cold summer nights at the high elevations of the Rocky Mountains.

A male Calliope Hummingbird sitting on a branch with its beak covered in freshly eaten nectar
A male Calliope Hummingbird sitting on a branch with its beak covered in freshly eaten nectar.

Calliope hummingbirds have blank green feathers on the back and a crown with white underparts.

The adult male has dark red feathers on the gorget, green flanks and a very dark blackish tail. Females and juveniles have a pinkish washed out color on the flanks, dark feathers on the throat and a dark tail with white tips, easily distinguishable from the male’s tail.

Being the smallest bird, and the smallest of the hummingbirds in the United States, the Calliope Hummingbird is less aggressive than the other hummingbirds, usually staying out of sight and not producing many sounds outside of the breeding season.

Nesting

Like many other birds, the males will establish breeding territories amongst their preferred habitats and drive away the other competing males.

Following the style of Anna’s Hummingbirds and the Rufous Hummingbird, the male will fly up high and dive straight in front of the female while producing popping and buzzing sounds. A unique part of their “dance” is that the male will flare out their dark read feathers on the gorget right in front of the female, displaying its beauty.

Like the other hummingbirds on the list, the nest duty again falls to the female, who picks out a spot well camouflaged in pine trees or other coniferous vegetation. They place the nests high up in the trees to avoid predators on land.

Because of their small size, the female birds will sometimes use old pine cones as the base of their nest, providing good insulation and camouflage for the nest.

Diet

Their main diet is based on nectar from flowers but are also keen hunters, catching insects mid-air. Due to their small size and their tendency to be bullied away by bigger birds, the Calliope Hummingbird is usually seen foraging closer to the ground, hunting for insects and sucking sap from small flowers including Anise hyssop (Agastache foeniculum), Bee balm (Monarda sp), Golden currant (Ribes aureum) and Western columbine (Aquilegia formosa).

Because of their high nutrient density, artificial feeders are also popular amongst birds of this species and providing them with much needed sugar. Again, they tend to stay away from the most popular feeders, especially those already occupied by the Rufous Hummingbird.

Conservation

The Calliope Hummingbird is not endangered and is marked as ‘Least Concern (LC)’ on IUCN’s red list of endangered species. Despite its small size, the population seems to be stagnant and they remain fairly common and widespread.

Being the smallest bird species in the United States has led to difficulties in understanding their life history, and much of it is still unknown, making it difficult to pinpoint the threats to this species.

But one of the biggest threats to the species growth seems to be habitat loss and land-use changes in their wintering range in Mexico. Unlike the other species on the list, the Calliope Hummingbird has a much smaller wintering range than the others, making habitat loss there extremely critical for the population size.

Where to look for them

A great way to find this bird in New York, is to look for low hanging branches of willow or alder near flowering fields.

They often find a favourite branch which the often return to relax and scout for insects and predators. Being small and hard to find, listening for their unique sounds during breeding season and looking for a small bird diving steeply is also a good way to find them.

Looking for forest openings and woodland edges near willow or alder with flowering plants around is a good place to start. In contrary to the other hummingbirds on this list, this bird is mostly seen around the Hudson River in cities like Yonkers and Tarrytown and is thus more habituated to human contact.

Conclusion

Hummingbirds are not exclusive to the tropics and are far more common in North America than one might think, though many of the species you can encounter in New York are visitors rather than inhabitants. Gardens and flowering parks are the best places to find these magnificent birds in New York.

Hummingbirds are some of the most fragile birds in North America, being extremely vulnerable to habitat destruction and land use change in their breeding grounds, as well as wintering grounds.

The rise in popularity of cultivated gardens with flowers seem to have helped the populations of hummingbirds across North America and is therefore a great way to help these birds fight against habitat destruction in their natural ranges.