Juvenile ruby-throated hummingbirds resembling their mothers with more camouflaged plumage, but as they mature they begin to develop male coloration and patterns. During fall hummingbird migration, it may seem as though there are many more female hummingbirds about, but looking for these subtle clues can help birders distinguish which birds are actually male juvenile birds:
- Face: Juvenile male ruby-throated hummingbirds have the same gray auriculars that their mothers have, but the color is often less intense and less extensive. It will gradually darken to their mature plumage.
- Throat: While females have very faint gray streaks on the throat, juvenile male ruby-throated hummingbirds have much bolder streaks that will gradually show the red iridescence characteristic of their fathers. Young birds may show a few red spots near the base of the throat, and those spots will eventually become a full, colorful gorget.
- Flanks: The flanks of juvenile male ruby-throated hummingbirds are gray-green, but less richly colored than the flanks of adult birds. A touch of buff may be visible.
- Tail: Held folded, the tail does not show the pointed tips that are needed for identification, but the white spots inherited from the female parent are visible. In time, those spots will disappear with wear and the tail feathers will become fully dark as these male birds mature and molt.
- Upperparts: (Not Pictured) Like the adult birds, juvenile ruby-throated hummingbirds of both genders have bright green upperparts. The younger the birds are, the less iridescence the upperparts will show, but the color is still evident.
Identifying ruby-throated hummingbirds can be a challenge in areas where this hummingbird's range overlaps with other hummers, but learning the careful clues that distinguish them is valuable for birders to feel more confident with every hummingbird they identify.
Photo – Juvenile Male Ruby-Throated Hummingbird © Dan Pancamo