Hummingbirds are a beautiful addition to any backyard. Many enjoy spending time watching and being entertained by the acrobatic flying and feeding maneuvers of hummingbirds. Ever stop to wonder what gender you are observing? Identifying male and female genders can be tricky. Here are four identifying steps to assist you in your quest.
How do I Identify a Hummingbird’s Gender?
- Look at Their Colors: Males are the only hummingbirds with iridescent feathers
- Take Note of Size Differences: Females are larger than males
- Listen to their Sounds: Males produce sounds with their feathers
- Watch Their Behaviors: Both males and females show aggressiveness
In the Animalia Kingdom, Class Aves by visual identification is the easiest way to tell males and females apart. Hummingbirds are no exception; as sexually dimorphic creatures, they look different depending on their sex. But there is even more to determining gender than what meets the eye. Let us take a look at all the differences between a male and female hummingbird.
Step One: Hummingbird Colors
Hummingbirds as a species have distinct identifiable differences. The most distinguishable coloring between males and females is their plumage or collective layers and composition of displayed feathers. Male hummingbirds tend to be brightly colored to draw the attention of female partners. Female hummingbirds are duller or less vibrant by comparison allowing them to camouflage into their surroundings and be less visible to predators.
Back: Males will have brightly colored feathers showing a metallic sheen enhanced by sunlight. Females do not feature any vibrant patches of color and are much dingier looking in presentation.
Throat: Male hummingbirds are the only ones that feature a primary identifiable brightly colored gorget or throat while females portray white throats. Sometimes the male gorget will appear dark, but with the right lighting and movement it will reflect the light and expose brilliant color.
Tail: In most breeds, examining the tail feathers are another excellent identifier of distinguishing between genders. The male hummingbird will have plain colored tail feathers without any distinct visible pattern. The female’s tail feathers will usually feature white spots on their tips.
Juvenile male hummingbirds in their first season share the same coloring as adult females.
This allows them the protection of camouflaging while they mature before fighting predators and competitors. With close observation there will be a streak of dark feathers on the male juvenile’s throat. Otherwise,the rest of the time it will be extremely difficult to tell, even to a trained hummingbird professional.
Step Two: Take Note of the Hummingbird’s Size
Distinguishing gender by size is harder than by their color. While the colors of a hummingbird are obvious at first glance, size can be hard to determine while they are in flight.
Directly comparing a male and female hummingbird, the females are generally 15% to 25% larger on average than their male counterparts. This is because they are responsible for laying eggs and keeping them warm. Extra body weight is needed for the ability to generate more body heat, as well as share their food with their babies.
Size should not be the only identifier to base a hummingbird’s gender. In some instances, there are females that are smaller and males that are larger. Therefore, size should be considered along with all of the other factors to get a precise read on their gender.
Step Three: Listen to their Sounds
Male hummingbirds will often sing or play with sound in order to gain attention as a part of their attempt to find a mate. They will also flap their wings as fast as they possible, proving that they can create the loudest humming sound. This sound is why they are called hummingbirds.
Female hummingbirds are impressed by these gestures of showmanship. They will sit and listen absorbing this incredible orchestral display. Sometimes they will close their eyes to fully enjoy the music made by their male counterparts. They will even use the sounds to judge how fast the male is diving. The louder the noise, the faster the dive, which attracts the female.
Female hummingbirds are not under as much pressure as males during mating season. They sit and wait patiently to be impressed by showy feathers, dances, and dives before deciding the best mate.
Though female hummingbirds are not the ones performing during the mating season, they are still capable of making noises of their own. By the speed of flapping their wings, they make that characteristic humming sound just the same as males.
Females are just as territorial as males, especially when it comes to protecting their nests and offspring. It’s not uncommon for female hummingbirds to produce sharp chirps, trills, and raspy calls when they feel the need to be aggressive. The two most important things to them are food and their babies and they won’t hesitate to defend both.
While female hummingbirds are not going to go through the trouble of diving from ridiculous heights to impress anyone, they are still capable of making unique sounds of their own when protecting their food source and offspring.
Step Four: Observe Hummingbird Behavior
Hummingbirds act differently depending on gender. Taking the time to watch their behavioral patterns will make it easier to understand and identify their gender.
Gender Territory Behavior
Male hummingbirds exhibit aggressive dominant behavior to attract females and keep other males from infringing on their territory. They will chatter, buzz or actually combat with other hummingbirds for these reasons.
Hummingbirds are incredibly territorial by nature. They stake their claim over what they think belongs to them. This idea does not differ between male and female hummingbirds. Both genders will find a place they like to take up residence. However, each gender has slightly different criteria for what they deem important.
Female hummingbirds are most likely to find a territory based on available food sources and nesting material in the area. Building a strong and secure nest is critical for baby hummingbirds to survive strong weather elements. Readily available food sources benefit the mother by providing easy accessible nourishment for herself as well as showing her offspring how to forge for food themselves as they mature.
Instinctive and protective mothers everywhere hold true to their name. Hummingbird mothers are no exception to the rule. They defend fearlessly their creations to keep their babies safe from harm and predators. The courage a female mother shows is remarkable. They will chase other animals of prey twice as large as they are such as cats, larger birds and even humans!
“There is no greater warrior than a mother protecting her child”—N.K Jemisin
They will even chase males away from their nest to prevent their brightly colored feathers from attracting predators.
Male hummingbirds will also look for a territory with an abundant food source to attract a healthy number of females. Their number one priority is simple; mate and mate often. Males will do their best to mate with as many females as possible during the season and move on without taking any responsibility for their young.
The male hummingbirds are much more aggressive when it comes to defending their chosen territory. Elimination of competitors is important. They will do whatever is necessary to chase the competition away with vigorous aerial displays and vocalizations. If that does not work, they will even get physical and chase the intruder away.
They also show aggression when it comes to nectar feeders. They do not want other males to intrude on what they believe is their victory prize. It is common for a larger male to fiercely protect a feeder and keep it all to himself!
Hummingbirds chase and fight each other as a form of male dominance. They exhibit their aggression in four stages starting from warning sounds, changing postures, chasing intruders to their last resort of fighting their enemies.
Male hummingbirds always start off the conversation with a few annoyed chirps and buzzes while perched on a high branch. They prefer to show dominance with the least amount of expendable energy. It is necessary to reserve and save all of their energy for more death defying behaviors.
When the chirping does not give the desired outcome they will dispense a little more effort with a few quick physical posture changes signalling to their enemy that they are serious and mean business.
Chasing their intruder escalates to the third stage in male aggression. This behavior signals accountability for their actions and they will fiercely chase the unwanted guest followed by many angry chirps.
When physical chasing is expending too much energy, fighting their enemies and staying in one place is the most beneficial tactic. Many males will resort to this option when defending a hummingbird feeder. When in
combat they use their sharp beaks and claws as weapons. Usually the less dominant hummingbird will fly away in defeat. The worst thing that can happen, though rarely, is when dangerous aggression intensifies getting out of control leading to severe injury or death.
All of these behaviors are necessary for the dominant male hummingbird to hold his ground and attract a female suitor.
Identifying hummingbird mating habits can be a jovial and educational experience. In the world of mating, male and female hummingbirds play significantly different roles. If you are lucky enough to witness some of their mating rituals or catch sight of them around a nest, there will be some extra clues as to gender identification.
During mating season, a male hummingbird will try to attract a female by performing a dancing ritual. His immediate focus is to attract numerous females in order to procreate multiple times to pass on his desired genetic genes. They choose between a variety of dance rituals and courtship displays. The two commonly performed courtship displays are the “dive display” and the “shuttle display”.
In a dive display, a male hummingbird will increase his speed and climb 60 to as high as 130 feet up into the air. Once at his preferred optimum height he will break and nose dive to the ground. Just before a possible crash, he will abruptly use his tail feathers to slow himself, create a distinct honking sound and abort a crash while showing off his strength, coordination and agility. He will fly away and repeat his ritual dance three to four more times in hopes of attracting a female.
Below is a video of what a quick dive bomb display would look like from a male hummingbird along with his audible serination.
A shuttle display demonstrates playful, attentive and seductive attributes of affection to win the hand of a fair maiden. The passionate “U” shape flying technique of swinging his body back and forth while in mid air to gain her attention can be very effective. He also adds a vocal whistling to help seal the deal. If a perched female is watching and is interested, she may join him in this dance of affection.
Hummingbirds do not mate for life. The male hummingbird leaves almost as quickly as he arrives. All hummingbird females are single moms and male hummingbirds are polygamous. Once their mating is done, the males leave the females to incubate the eggs and raise the young on her own. If you come across a hummingbird nest and see an adult nearby, it will be a female.
Nest Building Behavior
If you see a busy hummingbird flying religiously back and forth to a particular location, jumping up and down on a perch, acting strangely and carrying materials in her bill, there is a high probability you are witnessing a female building her nest!
Likewise, if a hummingbird is attentively brooding for long periods of time during the day in the nest, caring for hatchlings and actively foraging for food and returning to the nest, then it is safe to conclude that you are witnessing a mother hummingbird. In the hummingbird world, the female does all of the nest preparation and child-rearing.
Once the female is impregnated by the male the countdown of time begins for her to build her nest. Eggs are growing inside of her while she determines the perfect location to build a nest while frantically gathers nesting materials.
The female will locate a nesting territory with high standards which include the perfect protected location from all types of unstable weather such as rain, wind and temperatures.
She strategically locates camouflaging nesting materials such as moss, lichen and other small twigs to construct her nest. These masterfully designed cup-like nests are glued together with spider silk.
As the young hummingbirds grow, their mother will often repair the nest if it starts to grow weak from their rapid growth. The females put an extraordinary amount of work into their nests since their babies need to stay snug and safe in it for 5-8 weeks.
Food abundance is crucial near a nest. When it comes to mating and raising young, it is a major priority to be able to keep themselves and their offspring fed.
Differences between Male and Female Juvenile Hummingbirds
As mentioned earlier, male juvenile hummingbirds during their first year of life, will closely resemble their mothers. It is easy to mistake a juvenile male hummingbird for an adult female if they are out of the nest and in flight. However, there are a few differences that might give a hint as to their gender.
Male juveniles are smaller than their mothers. Before they come into their adult plumage, the most telling sign of a juvenile is a pattern of dark streaks on the throat as they begin showing signs of their colorful gorgets. It’s not uncommon to find a young male hummingbird with one or two brightly colored feathers growing among the white.
Females like male juveniles, resemble their mother and are identified with plain white throats and dull coloring. As males become colorful, females on the other hand will continue to keep their muted tones.
Identifying hummingbird gender is fairly simple by observing a few physical characteristics. First, check out their color and size as the most obvious clues. Second, rely on their sounds and behavior.
If a hummingbird is showing off a bright red gorget reflecting from the sun’s rays you can bet it is a male. He is either showing off his power and masculinity to potential threats or enticing a female’s attention.
Likewise, if you spot a more subdued colored hummingbird with spider web silk or small twigs in her beak, you can bet this one is a female mother expecting and is preparing a sturdy nest to raise her young.
If you hear a vibrant and non stopping chatter, it is a male defending his territory with preliminary warnings. A female is just as fierce when protecting her young, but is less vocal and more aggressive with less warnings.
During migration, males will leave up to three weeks earlier than females. If you see some hummingbirds lingering behind while others have started to migrate, they are the females.
Study the hummingbirds in your yard and you will be an expert at telling the males from the females in no time!
Happy Hummingbird Watching!