Hummingbirds Found in Tennessee: (Pictures and Sounds)

Tennessee is home to numerous hummingbirds both year-round and seasonal. There are even a few species of hummingbirds that are only rarely found in Tennessee as exotic visitors.

While it is easy to assume all hummingbirds are the same when we rarely see them as more than a jewel-toned flashing blur as they jet around our hanging flowers and porches; they have different temperaments, varied nesting habits, diverse coloring and reside in multiple geographical ranges.

What types of hummingbirds are found in Tennessee?

There are 8 hummingbird species found in Tennessee:

  • Ruby-Throated
  • Rufous
  • Allen’s
  • Anna’s
  • Black-Chinned
  • Broad-Tailed
  • Calliope
  • Green-violetear (Mexican-violetear)

Native, seasonal, and rare hummingbirds seen in Tennessee:

There are 8 species of hummingbirds seen in Tennessee.

  • Year-round natives: Ruby-Throated and Rufous hummingbirds.
  • Seasonal: Ruby-Throated and Rufous hummingbirds (some migrate).
  • Rare: Allen’s, Anna’s, Black-Chinned, Broad-Tailed, Calliope, and Green-violetear (Mexican-violetear) hummingbirds.

Hummingbirds are known to exist within certain established ranges, either as year-round natives or as part of a migratory cycle.

While there are species of hummingbirds as year-round natives of Tennessee as well as seasonal visitors, there are hummingbirds found rarely in Tennessee and show up at feeders far outside their established range. These hummingbirds are known in ornithological circles as “vagrants.”

Categories of Hummingbirds:

Year-Round/Native Hummingbirds:

These hummingbirds live in Tennessee year-round.

  • Ruby-Throated (Year-Round Native)
  • Rufous (Year-Round Native)

Seasonal Hummingbirds:

These hummingbirds are in Tennessee temporarily as part of their migratory pattern.

  • Ruby-Throated (Seasonal – Some Migrate)
  • Rufous (Seasonal – Some Migrate)

Rare/Vagrant Hummingbirds:

These hummingbirds are outside of their normal geographic range when found in Tennessee but are occasionally spotted. Not only do these species of hummingbirds have a wide variety of specific geographic ranges, but they are also known to sometimes interbreed with each other, creating hybrids.

  • Allen’s (Rare – Vagrant)
  • Anna’s (Rare – Vagrant)
  • Black-Chinned (Rare – Vagrant)
  • Broad-Tailed (Rare – Vagrant)
  • Calliope (Rare – Vagrant)
  • Green-violetear (Mexican-violetear) (Rare – Vagrant)

Because of human intervention, in the form of feeding stations and the transplant of exotic flowers in residential areas, some hummingbirds in mild climates are staying rather than migrating.

Read on to find out more about each of these hummingbird species as well as where and when they can be found in Tennessee.

Year-Round/Native Hummingbirds:

RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD – (Archilochus colubris)

Conservation Status: Least concerned
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Apodiformes
Family: Trochilidae
Genus: Archilochus
Species: A. colubris

The Ruby-throated hummingbird’s scientific name originated from Carl Linnaeus, a Swedish botanist, who first listed this scientific classification as “Trochilus colubris”. It’s name changed over a hundred years later and was reclassified by Ludwig Reichenbach, a German botanist to “Archilochus colubris”, which is its current scientific name, meaning “top thief” or “sky spirit/sun-god bird”.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are year-round natives to Tennessee. While most Ruby-throated hummingbirds are seen year-round, some Ruby-throated hummingbirds prefer to migrate south to winter in Mexico. 

Male Ruby-throated hummingbirds have a striking iridescent blood-red gorget, stopping at the neckline. He is identified with a dull metallic green topside, a light gray underbelly and black wings. The Ruby-throated hummingbird is a smaller species of hummingbirds weighing less than 4.5 grams or 2 U.S. dimes and is 2.8 to 3.3 inches in length. The oldest male Ruby-throated hummingbird has been recorded at 5 years.

Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Photo by: paulapaintsart
Taken: Oneida, Tennessee
Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Photo by: paulapaintsart
Taken: Oneida, Tennessee
Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Photo by: paulapaintsart
Taken: Oneida, Tennessee

Female Ruby-throated hummingbirds have a white throat with some light stippling and are typically larger than the males. The oldest female Ruby-throated hummingbird has been recorded at 9 years, almost double that of the male.

However, the average lifespan of a Ruby-throated hummingbird is approximately 3-5 years.

Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Photo by: paulapaintsart
Taken: Oneida, Tennessee

Juvenile male and female Ruby-throated hummingbirds during their initial stages of life resemble their mother exhibiting a white throat with light stippling.

As the males mature, they begin to display a few specks of color near their neckline and eventually their bolder red throat feathers become more dominant and stately displaying a colorful gorget.

Juvenile females show a light faint grey stippling on their throat. As both sexes mature their less vivid and lighter colored plumage will begin to mature and become darker in color.

Juvenile Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Photo by: mz13hummingbirds

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are the only species that nest in Tennessee and the only ones that nest east of the Mississippi River. All other hummingbirds seen in Tennessee are just passing through to their nesting destination.

There are two migration routes for the Ruby-throated hummingbird during the spring and fall migrations.

The first migration route is a direct but exhausting nonstop journey southwest over the Gulf of Mexico to Mexico and then down to Central America for the winter.  The flight distance over the Gulf of Mexico is over 500 miles. Although this is the direct “short” route, there are numerous obstacles faced by these birds.

Some obstacles include not being able to rest, having no means to refuel or eat, and having to avoid the dangerous tropical Atlantic hurricanes while flying to their destination. To make matters worse, depending on how you look at it, they migrate during the dark hours of the night or are taking the “Red-eye flight”.

Researchers believe their small size makes the energy expenditure of their grueling trans-oceanic migration pattern more taxing for males than for females even though they both double their body’s fat prior to making the migration across the Gulf of Mexico.

The second migration route is over 2,000 miles, flying along the coastline outlining the Gulf of Mexico. Although this is the “long” route, it allows the opportunity to rest and refuel even though there are less food source guarantees along the way.

Scientists are unclear and continue to investigate as to why one group of birds would prefer to take one route over the other.

See my article: Hummingbird Migration in Tennessee

Ruby-throated hummingbirds prefer open woodland and are often seen in parks, gardens, and backyards as well. They are solitary birds except during mating periods when they are fiercely territorial and aggressive towards hummingbirds of other species.

See pictures of male, female, and juvenile Ruby-throated hummingbirds here…..

Hear sounds of Ruby-throated hummingbirds here…..

RUFOUS HUMMINGBIRD – (Selasphorus rufus)

Conservation Status: Near threatened
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Apodiformes
Family: Trochilidae
Genus: Selasphorus
Species: S. rufous

The Rufous and Ruby-Throated hummingbirds are the most common hummingbirds seen in Tennessee. Even though Rufous hummingbirds are seen year round, they do not nest in Tennessee.

The Rufous hummingbird gets its name from the Latin-based word “Red” that is used to describe its reddish-brown coloring.

According to the Tennessee Watchable Wildlife website, Rufous hummingbird can tolerate temperatures to -4 degrees Fahrenheit allowing a territory that extends north into Alaska, further than any other hummingbird.

In recent years, Tennessee has experienced an ever-growing winter population of this tenacious little Rufous hummingbird.

Male Rufous hummingbirds display an iridescent orange-red gorget, however, in darker lighting it can appear chocolate brown. Their flanks and tail are rusty in color. They have a white to beige underbelly and a black bill. Males can also have green plumage with specks of green color on their rustic-looking backs or on the crown of their head along with chocolate brown dorsal feathers. Their size is 2.8 inches to 3.5 inches in length and weighs 3.2 grams.

Male Rufous Hummingbird
Photo by: Kevin Walsh
Male Rufous Hummingbird
Photo by: Kevin Walsh

Juvenile male Rufous hummingbirds have a rustic look with small iridescent orange specks of color on their throats.

Juvenile Rufous hummingbirds are so similar in coloring and temperament to an Allen’s hummingbird that they are practically indistinguishable in the field. Therefore, identification is established by range rather than appearance.

Female Rufous hummingbirds are green and white with some iridescent orange feathers on their throat. Their tail is dark with white tips and an orange-red base. Female Rufous hummingbirds are slightly larger than the males in anticipation of producing offspring.

Female Rufous Hummingbird
Photo by: Kevin Walsh

Like Allen’s hummingbirds, Rufous hummingbirds are highly territorial and can be aggressive to other hummingbirds and animals. They are fearless and have a reputation to even go as far as to attack squirrels and chipmunks that come too close to their nest. They can outmaneuver all other hummingbirds in the air, making them extremely competitive at feeders.

Rufous hummingbirds make the longest migrations of any other bird in the world, making a clockwise circuit of western America every year that is approximately 3,900 miles. They have one of the northernmost breeding ranges of any hummingbird in the world, nesting as far north as Alaska. Rufous hummingbirds are polygamous and will mate with several partners in a season.

Rufous hummingbirds have excellent memories and have been known to investigate the location of an old hummingbird feeder years after the feeder has been removed.

During a capture and release banding operation in British Columbia, the oldest living recorded female Rufous hummingbird was 8 years and 11 months old.

See my article3 Reasons Why Hummingbirds Are Banded

Due to habitat loss in the Pacific Northwest, Rufous hummingbirds are listed at “near threatened” status by the IUCN red list of threatened species.

See pictures of male, female and juvenile Rufous hummingbirds here…..

Hear sounds of Rufous hummingbirds here…..

Seasonal Hummingbirds

The only seasonal hummingbirds found in Tennessee are the same as the year-round residents identified above.

Some of the Tennessee year-round hummingbirds do migrate further north in the spring and over-winter further than Tennessee during the winter.

Rare/Vagrants Hummingbirds

ALLEN’S HUMMINGBIRD – (Selasphorus sasin)

Conservation Status: Least concerned
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Apodiformes
Family: Trochilidae
Genus: Selasphorus
Species: S. sasin

Allen’s hummingbirds are native to California but are occasionally seen in Tennessee.

The common name of Allen’s hummingbird is in commemoration of Charles Andrew Allen (1841-1930), an American collector and taxidermist.

Allen’s hummingbirds are rare migratory visitors to Tennessee because they commonly reside and nest along the California coast and winter in Mexico. However, some continue their migration and wander farther east into Tennessee and continue their journey as far as Florida being noted as rare migrants.

Male Allen’s hummingbirds are green-backed with a green forehead and rust-colored flanks, rump, and tail. When their tail feathers are fanned out you can see their chocolate-colored tips. The gorget of the male Allen’s hummingbird is an iridescent orange-red, however, in darker lighting, it can appear chocolate brown. Allen’s hummingbirds are 3.3 inches to 3.5 inches in length and weigh 2-4 grams.

Male Allen’s Hummingbird
Male Allen’s Hummingbird

Note: In darker lighting the gorget appears chocolate brown in color.

Female and juvenile Allen’s hummingbirds have similar coloring as the male but do not have an iridescent gorget.

Juvenile Male Allen’s Hummingbird (on a tomato cage)
Baby/Young Juvenile Male Allen’s Hummingbird (on a tomato cage)

Juvenile Allen’s hummingbirds are so similar in coloring and temperament to a Rufous hummingbird that they are practically indistinguishable in the field. Therefore, identification is established by range rather than appearance.

Male Allen’s hummingbirds perform a striking, quick back-and-forth courtship dance resembling the movement of a pendulum. They have one of the most complex territorial dive displays of any North American hummingbird.

See my article Hummingbird Dance: 5 Interpretive Explanations

They are extremely aggressive and territorial and are known to attack not only other hummingbirds of any species but also larger predatory birds such as hawks.

Male and female Allen’s hummingbirds are not social birds. They do not associate with one another outside of breeding and will fight for their own territory.

They are commonly found nesting in northern California gardens. Their nesting season is perfectly timed to when the regions have the most rainfall which helps provide prolific nectar producing flowers for their offspring.

Allen’s hummingbirds are split into native and migratory subspecies:

  • Native variant (S.s. sedentarius)
  • Migratory variant (S.s. sasin)

The native variant (S.s. sedentarius) lives permanently on the Channel Islands off Southern California, while the migratory variant (S.s. sasin) lives primarily on the California Coast but winters in Central Mexico.

Allen’s hummingbirds are absent at mountainous elevations above 9,000 feet due to the lack of hummingbird flowers that would otherwise serve as their nectar source.

See pictures of male, female and juvenile Allen’s hummingbirds here…..

Hear sounds of Allen’s hummingbirds here…..

ANNA’S HUMMINGBIRD – (Calypte anna)

Conservation Status: Least concerned
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Apodiformes
Family: Trochilidae
Genus: Calypte
Species: C. anna

Anna’s hummingbirds are named after Anna Massena, Duchess of Rivoli. These birds are rare vagrants to Tennessee since they are a common resident on the western coast.

Male Anna’s hummingbirds are the only hummingbird species in North America with a red crown. They are identified as mostly green, gray, and magenta in color. The males have a flashy and colorful iridescent magenta gorget and crown. Their size ranges from3.5 inches to 4.3 inches in length and they weigh 2.4 to 4.5 grams.

The gorget on a male hummingbird is named after the protective metal piece in a suit of armor that covers the wearer’s throat to prevent injury when in battle. Since male hummingbirds are very aggressive with each other when fighting for their own territory, this name is appropriate and fitting to describe their physical attributes.

Adult Male Anna’s Hummingbird 
Photo by: Kevin Walsh
Adult Male Anna’s Hummingbird
Photo by: rickwmo

Female Anna’s hummingbirds are overall not as colorful as the males, appearing pale green in color. Females can also have a gorget, but it is a smaller patch of magenta. Females tend to have a pale white line over each eye that makes them distinctive.

Adult Female Anna’s Hummingbirds
Photo by: rickwmo
Juvenile Male Anna’s Hummingbird 
Photo by: Kevin Walsh

Note: This Anna’s hummingbird could be a juvenile in those awkward teenage years or it could be during a molting stage.

Baby/Juvenile Male Anna’s Hummingbird 
Photo by: Kevin Walsh

Note: This Juvenile Male Anna’s Hummingbird is beginning to show his magenta head feathers near his temple along with some faint color starting to show on his gorget.

Baby/Juvenile Female Anna’s Hummingbird
Photo by: Kevin Walsh

The Anna’s hummingbird predominantly breeds in Northern Baja California and parts of Southern California, however, due to the transplanting of exotic ornamental plants in residential areas along the Pacific Coast and Inland Deserts, their breeding range has expanded up the Western Seaboard. Anna’s hummingbirds have the northernmost year-round range of any hummingbird species.

Female Anna’s hummingbirds raise their young with no help from the males.

Anna’s hummingbirds protect their territory with elaborate dives targeted towards predatory birds and even towards people they perceive to be threatening.

See pictures of male, female and juvenile Anna’s hummingbirds here…..

Hear sounds of Anna’s hummingbirds here…..

BLACK-CHINNED HUMMINGBIRD – (Archilochus alexandri)

Conservation Status: Least concerned
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Apodiformes
Family: Trochilidae
Genus: Archilochus
Species: A. alexandri

Another vagrant hummingbirds occasionally seen in Tennessee is a California migratory species, the Black-chinned hummingbird. Its scientific name is in commemoration of Dr. Alexandre, a French doctor who was the first to discover the species in Mexico.

Since they are strictly migratory, even though they have a large spring and summer range over the American West, they spend the winter in Mexico.

Male Black-chinned hummingbirds are identified by their royal purple gorget, showing a small glimmer of color right near the neckline like a buttoned-up shirt. Since the male purple gorget or throat color is minimal, at times they can appear to look all black. They have metallic green on their backs and flanks with white on their underbelly. Their dark tail is forked and their bill is black. Their size is 3.25 inches to 3.5 inches in length and weigh 2.8-5.6 grams.

Male Black-Chinned Hummingbird
Photo by: sony_alpha_male
Male Black-chinned Hummingbird
Photo by: hummingbirdsbysurprise

The gorget on a male hummingbird is named after the protective metal piece in a suit of armor that covers the wearer’s throat to prevent injury when in battle. Since male hummingbirds are very aggressive with each other when fighting for their own territory, this name is appropriate and fitting to describe their physical attributes.

Female/immature males have a dark rounded tail with white tips and no gorget. Their head and back reflect the dull metallic marbled look of beiges, greens, whites, yellowish-green and dark browns, looking similar to the scales found on a snake.

Female Black-Chinned Hummingbird
Photo by: hummingbirdsbysurprise

The coloring of juvenile Black-chinned hummingbirds is similar to that of the female adults, but with beige margins on the dorsal feathers that turn dark black when they get older.

Like Anna’s hummingbirds, Black-chinned hummingbirds hybridize, cross-breeding readily with other hummingbird species.

Black-chinned hummingbirds can live up to 10 years, which is extremely long in comparison to other birds and animals of similar size.

Because of their small size, Black-chinned hummingbirds are at risk of being preyed upon by larger insect-eating birds. Black-chinned hummingbirds are known to make their nests near larger more active bird nests, reducing the chance of predators around the nest by using a decoy strategy.

See my article: 10 Common Things That Kill Hummingbirds 

While typically a territorial species, if Black-chinned hummingbirds find themselves in an area with a large population of hummingbirds and plentiful food sources, they display little territoriality and will share.

See pictures of male, female and juvenile Black-chinned hummingbirds here…..

Hear sounds of Black-chinned hummingbirds here…..

BROAD-TAILED HUMMINGBIRD – (Selsaphoris platycercus)

Conservation Status: Least concerned
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Apodiformes
Family: Trochilidae
Genus: Selsaphoris
Species: S. platycercus

The Broad-tailed hummingbird is a medium-sized hummingbird and is sometimes found as a vagrant visitor to Tennessee.

They have a migrant and non-migrant population that begins in the south of Mexico. The ones that migrate north to breed will do so in the springtime (ranging from late February to early April) and will pass through Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and reach as far north as Montana.

Once the breeding season is complete, Broad-tailed hummingbirds once again depart and begin their southbound migration to winter in Mexico and Guatemala in late September and meet up with their non-migrant population.

Male Broad-tailed hummingbirds have an iridescent ruby-red gorget. Both males and females have green topside and pale underbellies with bright white eye rings and broadly rounded tails. Their size is medium build and ranges from 3.3 inches to 3.8 inches in length and weighs 3.6 grams.

Male Broad-Tailed Hummingbird
Photo by: shaunwilseyphotography
Male Broad-Tailed Hummingbird
Photo by: shaunwilseyphotography
Female Broad-Tailed Hummingbird
Photo by: shaunwilseyphotography
Baby/Juvenile Broad-Tailed Hummingbird
Photo by: shaunwilseyphotography

This species of hummingbird prefers habitats in the understory of mature forest woodlands such as pine and oak groves. They chose to nest on the branches of trees and have been known to return to the same nesting ground each year, roughly 70% of the time.

Their breeding time coincides with the peak time of flowering native plants for maximum food resource availability. They are promiscuous and do not form any kind of a pair bond between male and female birds and again the female raises the young alone.

The Broad-tailed hummingbird has suffered a decline in population since the 1990s, but presently, its population is stable, and it has been shown to have adapted to human habitat encroachment.

See pictures of male, female, and juvenile Broad-tailed hummingbirds here…..

Hear sounds of Broad-tailed hummingbirds here…..

CALLIOPE HUMMINGBIRD – (Selasphorus calliope)

Conservation Status: Least concerned
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Apodiformes
Family: Trochilidae
Genus: Selasphorus
Species: S. calliope

Calliope hummingbirds, a rare visitor to Tennessee, are named after a Greek mythological muse, who represented poetry and eloquence. Calliope means “beautiful voice” in ancient Greek.

Calliope hummingbirds are the smallest long-distance migratory bird in the world. All tend to breed in the higher elevations of the Rocky Mountains.

Male Calliope hummingbirds are easily identified by their iridescent purple crown and long striking spaced outline row of feathers that project down the sides of their throat.  Like many hummingbirds, the backs are metallic green and these birds measure 3 inches in length and weigh 2-3 grams.

Adult Male Calliope Hummingbird
Photo by: sony_alpha_male

Female Calliopes have white underbellies and chins with some dark spotting at the throat. They have gray-green crowns and buff-colored flanks which are the underbelly or wing of a bird. Females sport dark tails with white tips.

Female Calliope Hummingbird
Photo by: sony_alpha_male

Like many hummingbirds, Calliopes communicate not just by their song, but also by manipulating their feathers during flight to make different buzzing noises that act as a form of language and communication.

Male Calliope hummingbirds establish a breeding territory and mate with every available female hummingbird that accepts his courtship.

When a female Calliope hummingbird builds a nest, they are known to both nest on the top of pine cones and to steal building materials from the nests of other birds in order to construct their own. They will also dismantle nests from previous seasons and recycle them in their new nest.

Therefore, they are often attacked and chased by larger, more aggressive species of hummingbirds, such as Allen’s and Rufous hummingbirds. This causes them to maintain a relatively low profile in comparison to other species.

Because Calliope hummingbirds have a more restricted wintering range than most hummingbirds, they are particularly vulnerable to habitat loss and natural disasters, such as climate change and wildfires.

During a capture and release banding operation in Idaho, the oldest living recorded female Calliope hummingbird was 8 years and 11 months old when she was captured twice, once in 2007 and again in 2014.

See my article3 Reasons Why Hummingbirds Are Banded

See pictures of male, female and juvenile Calliope hummingbirds here…..

Hear sounds of Calliope hummingbirds here…..

GREEN-VIOLETEARS HUMMINGBIRD – (Colibri thalassinus)

Conservation Status: Least concerned
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Apodiformes
Family: Trochilidae
Genus: Colibri
Species: C. thalassinus / Mexican violetear

The Green-violetears or Mexican-violetears (Violet-ear) hummingbirds get their name from the Latin word thalassinus meaning “color of the sea”.

They are a rare but annual non-breeding visitor to the United States and have been seen in Tennessee. Individual Mexican-violetears have been identified straying as far north as Wisconsin, Michigan, and even Canada.

Male Green-violetear hummingbirds are iridescent green in color with a show of  bright violet ear patches on each side of their neck (hence the name “violet-ears”). The tail of this hummingbird is metallic blue-green with bronze central tail feathers that feature a black band underneath. Their size ranges from 3.8 inches to 4.7 inches in length and they weigh 5-6 grams.  

These species of hummingbird are found on the edge of cloud forests from Mexico to Nicaragua, where they enjoy a high level of tropical humidity in their environment. This dark hummingbird is commonly seen in forest clearings and edges moving among mountain ranges.

Green-violetear hummingbirds are somewhat nomadic. Scientists do not know much about their migration patterns as they have not been well-studied. But of the data that has been collected, the Mexican Violetear is typically found in central Mexico, Central America, and northern South America.

Like many other kinds of hummingbirds, the Green-violetear hummingbird is a solitary nester. They forage for nectar and insects alone rather than in a flock, but groups of these hummingbirds can be seen around flowering trees, such as the coffee-shade Inga tree.

See pictures and hear sounds of Mexican violet-ear hummingbirds here…..

Keep your eyes peeled and observe and enjoy the multiple types of hummingbirds found in Tennessee!

See my article: Hummingbird Migration in Tennessee

Happy Hummingbird Watching!

Elizabeth Donaldson

Hi Everyone! I have always been fascinated and amazed by the skill, strength, and beauty of hummingbirds. I hope this article answered your questions.

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