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Broad-Tailed Hummingbird or Ruby-Throated Hummingbird?

Tricky Hummingbird Identification Tips


Many hummingbirds are difficult to identify, especially when the males' gorgets are similar such as with the broad-tailed hummingbirds and ruby-throated hummingbirds, but even these tiny birds have enough clues for all birders to be confident with their identifications. Knowing exactly which marks and characteristics to look for takes practice, but since watching hummingbirds is never boring, that practice can yield great results.

Broad-Tailed Hummingbird and Ruby-Throated Hummingbird Identification Characteristics

When one of these hummingbirds comes calling, observing the bird carefully can reveal a range of small markings that can help positively identify the species. When identifying broad-tailed and ruby-throated hummingbirds, watch for these characteristics:

  • Size: While all hummingbirds are small, there is a distinct size difference between these two species. Broad-tailed hummingbirds are typically 4-4.25 inches in length, while ruby-throated hummingbirds are smaller and only measure 3.5-3.75 inches long.

  • Throat: The males' brilliant gorget is prominent on both species, but the color varies. Seen in good, bright light, the broad-tailed hummingbird has a rosy-red or pinkish gorget, while the ruby-throated hummingbird's gorget is more of a classic red shade or may show subtle orange tones. On the females, the broad-tailed hummingbird has a streaked throat, while the female ruby-throated hummingbird's throat is much more plain.

  • Chin: While tiny and hard to see, the chins of these birds can be an obvious field mark. The broad-tailed hummingbird has a white chin with a few flecks or spots, while the ruby-throated hummingbird has a solidly black chin.

  • Eyes: Both of these birds have dark eyes, but the broad-tailed hummingbird has a thin white line through the eye that separates the upperparts and gorget, and the female has a faint eye ring. The ruby-throated hummingbird has a darker face without a line, though there is a small white patch behind the eye.

  • Flanks: The female broad-tailed hummingbird has obvious buff or rufous color on the flanks while the female ruby-throated hummingbird's flanks are plain white. Both males have green or green-gray flanks.

  • Tail: The tail can be a good field mark on these birds while they are perched. Broad-tailed hummingbirds have a longer, more rounded tail with rufous edging showing on the interior feathers. Ruby-throated hummingbirds lack the rufous color on their shorter tails and the males have a distinctly forked tail rather than rounded.

  • Range: While vagrant birds can occur in both species, the overall range is an easy identity clue. The broad-tailed hummingbird is found in the western mountains of the United States and south to Central America, and only rarely ventures further east. The ruby-throated hummingbird, on the other hand, is the only hummingbird to regularly breed in the eastern United States, though it also winters in Central America.

  • Sounds: The chirping voices of these hummingbirds can be hard to distinguish, but the zinging metallic trill of the broad-tailed hummingbird's flight is a good clue for its identity. The ruby-throated hummingbird has primarily silent flight.

Field Identification Tips for Broad-Tailed and Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds

Despite knowing the subtle differences between these two hummingbird species, it can still be hard to distinguish them in the field. Try to watch the birds in good, bright sunlight to accurately see markings and colors, and watch them closely to check markings in different postures and positions. Putting hummingbird feeders close to windows can yield great views for extended observations of both perched and hovering birds, and planting flowers to attract hummingbirds will ensure these birds keep returning for further study. In the end, however, even the most experienced birders will not always be able to positively identify each species, and it is equally important to simply enjoy the company of these flying jewels while you practice learning how to identify them.

Broad-Tailed Hummingbird and Ruby-Throated Hummingbird Quick Reference

CharacteristicBroad-Tailed HummingbirdRuby-Throated Hummingbird
ThroatMales: Rosy-Red
Females: Spotted
Males: Orange-Red
Females: Plain
ChinWhite, SpottedBlack
EyesThin White Eye LineNo Eye Line
FlanksFemales Buff or RufousFemales White
TailLong, Rounded, Rufous EdgingShort, Dark, Males Forked
SoundsBuzzy Wing TrillSilent Flight
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