July 2014

Take a Look July 24, 2014

Something Strange About Their Range

Take a look at this range map of North American hummingbird breeding ranges. Isn’t it interesting that the west, in particular the southwest, is full of many species while the east is covered by just one species? And how about that large tract in the middle with no hummingbirds? Let us know in the comments why you think this may be. We don’t know but we’ll look for any research or theories and update this post with them at the end of the month.

Mouse over any hummingbird to see its name and range

Source: Birds of North America Online


By Project FeederWatch Project Leader Dr. Emma Greig

You may not realize it, but hummingbirds are a special family of birds that only occur in North and South America. The largest species diversity of hummingbirds occurs in South America, and as you move north or south, species diversity becomes lower. What does this mean for our North American hummingbirds? It means that most species live in the southwest US, and only a few species breed in the north or southeast: in the northeast, it is only Ruby-throated Hummingbirds!

So why is southeastern Arizona a hub of hummingbird diversity, and not other southwestern locations such as south Texas? It probably has a lot to do with the plants (which hummingbird need for both nectar and insects), which in turn is effected by elevation and rainfall. Both high elevation and (relatively) high rainfall tend to be associated with higher species abundance of hummingbirds, which gives Arizona a leg up in comparison to places such as Texas and Florida.

So what is the take home message? Hummingbird species diversity is probably explained by two thing: 1) by a gradual geographic spread of species away from the rainforests of South America, and 2) by the availability of suitable habitat that can support the coexistence of many hummingbird species.

REFERENCE: Wethington, S M., G. C. West, B A. Carlson. Hummingbird conservation: discovering diversity patterns in southwest USA. (2005) USDA Forest Service Proceedings RMRS-P36

This Month’s Articles

Funky Nests and BirdSpotter Hummingbird Highlights

Slideshow July 30, 2014

Something Strange About Their Range

Take a Look July 24, 2014

Hungry, Hungry Hummers

Factoid July 21, 2014

Beat the Beats

Interactive July 15, 2014


  1. Jennifer Seaton says:

    They seem to be concentrated along the cost too. Could this have to do with the trade winds? Maybe they have an impact on flower growth, or carry beneficial particles. They also would bring warm moist air. The populations seems to stop after the Rocky mountains too, which would make sense because there is a rain shadow there so the moisture and anything carried by the trade winds would drop out just west of the mountains.

  2. Sandra says:

    The West has a larger number of varied habitats. The West also has a lower human population concentration.

  3. Alice Patton says:

    Interesting. I noticed the Black Chinned Humming Bird has a large range in the west. I live on the west coast of Florida, south central. We had Black Chinned Hummingbirds at out house early spring this year!

  4. Philip Hamilton says:

    Here’s my somewhat educated guess. During the last ice age, which ended around 11,000 years ago, almost all of Canada and parts of the northern US and the western mountain ranges were covered by glaciers. The central US was taiga, arid steppes and arctic tundra ecosystems, inhospitable to hummingbirds. But there were refuges in Florida, the west coast and parts of the cordilleran interior of the SW that still had a variety of ecosystems where different hummingbird species could continue and flourish. After the ice age was over, the hummingbird population that was ancestral to the Ruby-throat spread out from Florida as the glaciers retreated, as did the various hummingbird species that had survived in the various western refuge ecosystems.

    • Paul Jaquith says:

      Sounds pretty plausible, Phil. Especially when you consider what seems to be a “no-fly-zone” splitting the country.

  5. Rebecca R says:

    Well, the generations that were to “remember” to go back to the other places didn’t survive. The generation that survived only knew to go one direction that they are in today. There are no birds in the middle of the country because that is mainly native grassland. There never were that many birds there to start with. That’s what I think!!!

  6. JP says:

    The RTH is the only species that can navigate over large expanses of water.

  7. JP Wade says:

    RBT is the only sp with the ability to navigate over large expanses of water.

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  9. Autumn VP says:

    Having now spent a little time on both coasts, it seems likely the drastic changes in biodiversity, elevation, general ecology along the West Coast could have a lot to do with this variation in hummingbird species diversity. The species ranges do seem (at least generally) pretty well aligned with elevation changes along the West Coast – some place that can vary from 6000 ft above sea level to at sea level itself (or below). This seems to change the vegetation pretty drastically from place to place; while on the East Coast, the elevation changes and general vegetation variation, while still significant in places, are relatively gentle.

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  12. Vicki says:

    Having watched the ruby-throated hummingbirds in fierce territorial battles, I think maybe they are so aggressive that the other sp simply retreat. I notice western sp overlap, but there is very little overlapping territory with the rubies.

  13. David F says:

    I believe you have a combination of geography and climate which affects migration and breeding grounds. The Western species seem to favor rather narrow geo-climate environments. For instance the Rufous Hummingbird is isolated in the cool Northwest environment, Anna’s Hummingbirds along the coast, Black Chinned Hummingbirds along the eastern slopes of the Rockies, etc. Each of these areas have specific climate associated with them. The migration of the ruby throated hummingbird seems to avoid the western mountain ranges (as they extend into Mexico) and approximates the Gulf wind stream and then spreading into the Northern states/Canada while avoiding what would be hospitable great plains.

    • Patty W. says:

      There are many Anna’s in Seattle and Portland. They are not technically coastal but Seattle is surrounded by the Salish Sea and Lake Washington. Portland has the Columbia and Willamette Rivers. Perhaps it is the proximity to large bodies of water. Perhaps for the cooling effect?
      I live on the SW coast of WA state. We have Anna’s year round. I think our summer and winter residents are different birds. There are a few weeks in the fall when I don’t see any hummers. About mid-October an Anna will catch my attention in the window, then streak to the feeding station. I have had 1-3 male Anna’s for the past fifteen years. There are other feeders all over the neighborhood so there must be many hummers.

  14. Natalie says:

    My mom lives in south east Wyoming and has over 20 hummingbirds in her backyard this time of year, broadtail, Rufus and even a Calliope, I think this map needs updated.

    • lyn metheny says:

      I live at 7000 feet just east of Albuquerque, NM. We get the Rufous hummers starting in early July, apparently as they are migrating back from the NW. they hang around for about 4 weeks. Also get the Black Chinned, arriving in May, so I assume they’re nesting here. The Calliope’s arrive late summer, sometimes….. So yes, I think the map is showing only the nesting areas, or ???

  15. dafabet says:

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  18. Susan Heard says:

    Just wondering why our Middle Tennessee hummingbirds showed up so late this year. We usually see them in June but it was late July this year. We had a very rainy spring following an extremely cold winter. Do they adjust their migration plans based on the weather of their destination?

  19. Susan Sowers says:

    I live in Belmont MA, and while I see Ruby Throated hummingbirds out in the countryside, lots of them in Western MA, I see NONE here in the city of Belmont or Cambridge. I have put out feeders, flowers, etc., but have not seen one. Can anyone tell me why?

  20. Melissa Skasik says:

    A lot of the Central part of the US is farmland, and native species have been eradicated. If we lose the native plants, we lose the bugs that feed on them and we no longer have a food source for butterflies and birds. Bugs, gnats and bees are the main food source for the Hummingbirds. Nectar is secondary. Planting GMO crops hastens this imbalance in nature. Crops can be sprayed with insecticide and the crops are not harmed, but the insects and any native plants growing among the crops die. Birds will go where three things occur: Shelter to raise their young, Food and Water. Without trees, hummingbirds cannot build their nests of spider webs, lichen and moss. Native ponds are being drained and turned into more farmland (corn=ethanol), and water can be scarce.

  21. Melissa Skasik says:

    I should mention that I live in New Braunfels, Texas. The last two winters our “Winter Texans” have been a male Rufous and a male Allen’s. Wish they were banded so I could tell if they are the same two birds. As a Texas Master Naturalist, I participate in the Texas Hummingbird Roundup Backyard Survey which is a special project of the Wildlife Diversity Program of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department. You can contact me at if you want more information on this Citizen Science project.

  22. David says:

    My guess: Adaptive radiation in response to landscape and habitat changes wrought by Rocky, Coastal Range, etc. mountain building through the Cenozoic. Fine tuning of form and function with adaptive re-radiation following recession of max mountain glaciation in the west.

  23. Josie says:

    Did you have any researchers looking in that spot where there are no hummers?

  24. Mike Moffett says:

    Greetings! I am sitting at my keyboard at 4am,quite suprised and pleased to report that i just saw a couple of humming birds !!!active in my backyard! Being that iy is dark out, it is hard to determine what kind of hummers they are, but i do believe they are an emerald type. Now, we normally get a group of them around fall-october or so- (we have pictures of them interacting with us, they are quite hungry and are not afaraid of us at all) but it seems kinda early this year> Hence the suprise! Also I was suprised to find them active so early in the morning; it is dark outside. They Love a group of flowers that grow in our yard; we dont know their cprrect name, but they have big white trumpets that are very fragrant, and they open up at dusk. It is possible to place your finger in front of one of the blooms,and they will land and crawl in to it. Well, just thought i would like to know this! By the way, We live in the middle of the united States, in Omaha Nebraska! Cheers, Doc,.

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  26. Chris says:

    I live on the south/east coastal state and have enjoyed the Ruby throat-ed humming bird for years. I did experience a Rufus wintering in my back yard in 2009. That was the first year I had fresh sugar water put out year long and would warm it twice a day for the little guy on those cold days. He left in the spring when the Ruby throat-ed came back and would not give him access to the feeders. So it may just be the Ruby’s are too aggressive.

  27. Scot Duncan says:

    Pleistocene refugia in the Mexican mountains for the western species. Subsequent northward dispersal during the Holocene following mountain chains. Ruby throat is an anomaly. Perhaps of Caribbean origins.

  28. Julia says:

    Lovely article! But your map incorrectly excludes Vancouver Island from the range of the Rufous Hummingbird.

    Vancouver Island (off the southwest coast of British Columbia) is home to two hummers: the Rufous and the Anna’s. I see a lot of Anna’s Hummingbirds here on the southern tip of the island, but elsewhere the Rufous is more common (as noted in this article on the Comox Valley Naturalists Society site).

  29. ann lawson says:

    Cornell orthinology lab has consistently over the years denied the existence of hummers on Vancouver Island, particularly Annas during the winter months. When I asked what ratio of feed to use I got a response back that I was mistaken, there are no hummers to feed in winter on my island. They don’t seem amenable to correction on this point.

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  32. Jessica Sachs says:

    We have a blue-throated hummingbird at our feeder, and we live on Lasqueti Island, between Vancouver Island and Powell River on the BC mainland,

  33. Patricia Hickerson says:

    This summer, I have seen what appears to be tiny hummingbird on my apartment balcony, sipping nectar from my flowers. As a child here in Falls Church I saw Ruby Thoated hummingbirds. This hummer is much smaller and has only black and white plumage. At first, I thought it was a big insect, but I’ve never an insect with a long beak, hovering and darting to and fro.

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  35. Linda Louise Weeks says:

    I’m trying to nail down the time that hummers leave Maryland for parts south. I have one who is still here in October, and it’s been quite cold in the mornings; there he sits, broken-hearted. Wish I had a little house for hummers… he was all fluffed up and a bit torpid. I don’t know what he’s up to….

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