What types of hummingbirds can you find in Montana?
Hummingbirds are one of the most popular birds in Montana and have captivated people’s interest and attention for a long time. But because hummingbirds are incredibly fast and small, these birds can be hard to distinguish from each other. Most of the time, they just look like little green, iridescent blurs streaking by your face!
- *RELATED: Watch the LIVE bird feeder and animal cameras in MY backyard* (You may get lucky and see a hummingbird on my cams RIGHT NOW!)
But don’t worry.
Today, you will learn about the 5 hummingbird species that can be found in Montana.
Each description includes identification tips, pictures, *range maps, fun facts, AND how to attract these beautiful birds to your yard!
#1: Ruby-throated Hummingbird
How To Identify:
- Males: Medium-sized hummingbird with a bright red throat and a black chin and mask that extends behind the eyes. The top of their head and back is iridescent green. Underparts are pale grey with a green wash on the sides of their belly.
- Females: Duller than males. The chin and throat are white with pale green streaks. Their face lacks the black chin and red throat of the male. Their belly is mostly white with buffy flanks, and the back is green.
- *Similar Species: Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, which have a duller red throat and lack a black chin. These two species have ranges that do not overlap.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird Range Map
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds migrate through eastern Montana during warm summer months. Once cooler temperatures start to arrive, these birds migrate to Mexico. Amazingly, most individuals travel ACROSS the Gulf of Mexico to reach their wintering grounds. Remember, they must make this incredibly long journey in a single flight, as there is nowhere to stop and rest. 🙂
How do you attract Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in Montana?
While there are many ways to draw these winged beauties to your yard, here are the two BEST strategies:
#1. Put out nectar feeders.
The most common way to get hummers to visit your backyard is to hang a quality hummingbird feeder filled with homemade nectar (sugar water).
The reason this strategy works is that nectar is a primary food source for hummingbirds. To fuel their active lifestyle, hummingbirds need to feed on it almost continuously throughout the day.
Supplying a FRESH and RELIABLE nectar source will be sought after by hummingbirds.
#2. Plant native plants that have long, tubular flowers.
As we just discussed, hummingbirds need nectar continuously, which is naturally obtained from flowers. Did you know that a hummingbird can visit up to 2,000 flowers each day looking for nectar?
With that being said, I hope it’s easy to see why you should plant shrubs, trees, and flowers in your yard that hummingbirds can’t resist! Establishing a hummingbird garden provides birds with a safe place to reliably find food.
Look for red flowers, because hummingbirds are naturally attracted to this color. Also, long, tubular flowers are great for hummingbirds because they can access the nectar with their long beaks and tongues, but bees and other insects can’t!
What sounds do Ruby-throated Hummingbirds make?
Press PLAY above to hear the sound these birds make!
Believe it or not, these hummingbirds do make distinctive noises. The sounds that I most often hear are a series of calls seem to be given as individuals are chasing each other around. It resembles a chattering “chee-dit.”
- Their legs are so short they are unable to walk or hop! If needed, they can sort of shuffle and scoot down a branch.
- These hummingbirds can beat their wings up to 53 times per SECOND!
- Ruby-throated Hummingbirds drink nectar for energy, but they obtain nutrition by eating a wide variety of small bugs. The list includes spiders, mosquitoes, gnats, fruit flies, and small bees.
- Nests are tiny (about the size of a thimble), and amazingly are held together by spider webs!
#2: Rufous Hummingbird
Rufous Hummingbirds are the most aggressive type of hummingbird in Montana!
Be careful if one finds your hummingbird feeders or garden, as they will relentlessly attack and drive away other hummingbirds (including much larger species) away.
How To Identify:
- Males: Bright copper-orange on their back (although some males have a green back) and sides of their belly. Beautiful reddish-orange iridescent throat. White breast and ear patch behind eye. Compared to other hummingbird species, they are small.
- Females: They have a green crown, neck, and back. Rufous (copper) colored sides with a white breast and belly. Some females have a spot of red or orange on their throat.
- *Similar Species: Allen’s Hummingbird, which has slightly more green on their crown and back. Allen’s also has narrower outer tail feathers and a slightly downward-curved bill. Females of these two species are incredibly hard to tell apart.
Rufous Hummingbird Range Map
Rufous Hummingbirds have an interesting migration pattern. In the spring, they fly north up the Pacific Coast to their summer breeding grounds. They return to their winter homes in Mexico and parts of the southern United States by flying a completely different route along the Rocky Mountains!
How To Attract:
Just put out a hummingbird feeder full of homemade sugar water or plant native nectar-filled flowers in your backyard!
But please be aware that Rufous Hummingbirds may drive away any other hummers that visit your yard. These aggressive birds are incredibly territorial and will relentlessly scare away all other hummingbird species. They have even been seen chasing chipmunks!
If an aggressive Rufous Hummingbird has taken over your hummingbird feeder, you have a few options to help alleviate the pressure. My favorite strategy is setting up multiple feeders around your entire yard. The farther you can place them apart, the better! There is no way your problem bird can defend all the feeding stations at once, ensuring that other individuals get a chance to eat. 🙂
What sounds do Rufous Hummingbirds make?
The most common sound you will hear these birds make is a series of chipping notes, which are given as a warning to intruding birds. Males also make a “chu-chu-chu” call at the bottom of a dive while trying to impress females.
- They have one of the longest migrations of any bird in the world, which is incredible given their small size (roughly 3 inches)! A one-way journey from Mexico to Alaska is about 3,900 miles (6,275 km), and remember they make this trip twice a year.
- They build their nests with soft plant down held together with spider webs. Like other hummingbird species, females prefer lichen, bark, and moss as camouflage.
- In addition to drinking nectar from plants, these birds enjoy hunting gnats, midges, and flies in the air, while plucking aphids from leaves.
#3: Black-chinned Hummingbird
I will never forget the first time I saw this hummingbird species. While on a camping trip in Zion National Park, I took an early morning walk when a male Black-chinned Hummingbird started feeding on the wildflowers in front of me! I still remember the purple, vibrant throat shining in the early morning sun. 🙂
How To Identify:
- Males: A medium-sized hummingbird with a metallic green body with a white breast and greenish flanks. Their head appears black overall, but their crown is actually very dark green, and their lower throat is iridescent violet. You typically can’t see the strip of purple unless the light hits it just right. Look for a white spot behind their eyes.
- Females: Have a greenish-grey cap on their heads and a green back. There is a white spot behind their eyes, similar to the males. Females have a dark-spotted grey throat and a white breast.
- *Similar Species: Ruby-throated Hummingbird, which has a greener crown, shorter bill, and red throat. But these two hummingbirds have ranges that are incredibly different, so you shouldn’t mix them up.
Black-chinned Hummingbird Range Map
Black-chinned Hummingbirds breed in Montana during the summer months. In winter, they migrate to the west coasts of Mexico. This species is one of the most adaptable of all hummingbird species and is found in various habitats. Look for them in places such as mountain and alpine meadows, canyons with thickets, orchards, urban areas, and recently disturbed areas.
You will probably hear a Black-chinned Hummingbird flying if they are around. This is because their wings make a distinctive hum, which sounds similar to a bee. These birds also commonly make different high-pitched ticks and chips.
- Their eggs are only about the size of a coffee bean!
- When the weather is cold, and lots of energy is needed to stay warm, these birds can drink up to THREE times their body weight in nectar. On the flip side, when insects are plentiful, they can survive without any nectar for stretches of time.
#4: Calliope Hummingbird
The Calliope Hummingbird is the smallest bird in Montana. It’s under four inches in length and weighs between 2 – 3 grams (0.071 to 0.106 oz), which is about the same weight as a ping-pong ball!
How To Identify:
- Males: These small birds are easy to identify because of their long, magenta throat feathers that appear as streaks going down their neck. Their head, upperparts, and flanks are metallic green. The breast is white. Males can be observed performing a unique U-shaped dive that is used to impress females.
- Females: They have small dark spots on their white throat instead of the vibrant magenta throat feathers like the male. Their head and back are covered in a metallic green with a white, buffy breast.
- *Similar Species: It’s hard to distinguish between female Calliope and female Rufous Hummingbirds. The biggest difference is that Rufous Hummingbirds are larger with a longer bill and have more copper coloring at the base of the tail.
Calliope Hummingbird Range Map
This hummingbird species has an incredibly long migration route, especially when you consider their tiny size. The Calliope spends its winters in Mexico. But each spring, they make the long migration up the Pacific coast to their summer breeding grounds. During fall migration, they return to Mexico by following the Rocky Mountains instead of heading back down the coast.
Male Calliope Hummingbirds are known for their impressive U-shaped dives, which are used to attract females. During the display, they will fly as high as 100 feet in the air and then dive until they almost hit the ground, and then rise back up to repeat the process.
While they are plummeting towards the Earth, you should be able to hear buzzing, which is emitted from their tail feathers, along with a high-pitched “zing” call that the bird makes.
- Even though they are tiny, Calliope Hummingbirds are known to be feisty during the breeding season. They have been observed chasing away birds as large as Red-tailed Hawks!
- These small hummers are known to hunt small insects by “hawking.” This means they sit on a perch waiting for their victim to pass by, and then fly out to catch it in mid-air.
- Calliopes like using conifer trees for nest construction. They try to choose a limb with a substantial sheltering branch overhead, which protects them from precipitation and makes the nest more difficult to spot from above. Organic materials such as lichen, bark, and moss comprise the camouflage.
#5: Broad-tailed Hummingbird
These hummingbirds are a bird of mountain meadows and open woodlands. They typically breed at elevations between 5,000 and 10,500 feet.
How To Identify:
- Males: Adults have a white breast, buffy flanks, and green covering their head, back, and tail. Look for their iridescent red throat.
- Females: Similar to other types of hummingbirds, females are larger than males. They have a lightly speckled throat, white upper breast, and a brownish belly. Head and back are green.
- *Similar Species: Ruby-throated Hummingbird, but their ranges do not overlap. These two species should be easy to tell apart depending on your location since Ruby-throats only live in eastern North America.
Broad-tailed Hummingbird Range Map
Broad-tailed Hummingbirds only stay in Montana for a few months, from late May to early August.
Males put on impressive aerial displays to attract females. The show begins with the male climbing high into the sky and then diving towards the ground, pulling up right in front of the bird he is trying to attract. Broad-tailed Hummingbirds are promiscuous, and they may mate with many individuals during a breeding season.
There are two sounds you may hear these hummingbirds make!
#1. Both males and females make chittering and chattering noises. These sounds are most often heard while they are feeding and foraging. (Listen below!)
#2. Their wings sound like crickets! While they fly, you can distinctly hear a trill that is both insect-like and metallic. (Listen below!)
- These birds live up to 10,500 feet high in the mountains, where temperatures regularly drop below freezing, even in summer. To survive these cold nights, Broad-tailed Hummingbirds enter what is called a state of torpor, where they slow their heart rate down and drop their body temperature until the sun comes up!
- To obtain protein, Broad-tailed’s will eat insects wherever they can find them! That could be catching bugs in mid-air, gleaning off leaves, or even stealing them off a spider web!
- When available, they will sometimes drink sap that is leaking from trees that have been drilled by Red-naped Sapsuckers.
Do you want to learn more about hummingbirds?
If so, here are a few books you should consider purchasing. 🙂
What’s your favorite strategy for attracting hummingbirds in Montana?
Leave a comment below!
The range maps above were generously shared with permission from The Birds of The World, published by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I use their site OFTEN to learn new information about birds!