There are around 335 documented hummingbird species in the New World. The United States is home to 17 different species, and of those 17, only three species of hummingbird can be found in Alaska — though thankfully it’s not difficult to spot them in the state as they are often seen zipping around parks and urban gardens.
Bird watchers who find themselves enjoying hummingbirds have likely seen one in particular: the Rufous Hummingbird, a common hummingbird species in southeast and southcentral Alaska. Notably, it is the only type of hummingbird that breeds in Alaska. Other species, such as Anna’s and Costas Hummingbirds, migrate to areas as far north as British Columbia, all the way from Mexico and California.
The typical range maps of hummingbird residencies seem to be expanding northward. Costa’s Hummingbirds have only recently expanded their range into Alaska, and it is becoming more and more common to see Anna’s Hummingbird during winter. How these tiny birds can migrate such vast distances and survive the cold Alaskan winter truly is amazing!
Hummingbird Species In Alaska
- Scientific name: Selasphorus rufus
- Length: 2.8 – 3.5 inches
- Weight: 0.071 – 0.176 oz
- Wingspan: 4.3 inches
Rufous hummingbirds stand apart from other species largely in part due to their rufous (copper-orange) backs. Beyond that, they have fairly short wings which don’t quite reach the end of the tail and a thin, nearly straight beak.
Males have a beautiful reddish-orange iridescent throat with a vibrant orange belly and back. Females have green backs, white underparts, and washed-rufous flanks.
Females have a less distinctive gorget, but there’s still a glimmer of color on their orange-red throat. Female hummingbirds also tend to have more rounded tails compared to the males, who generally have tail feathers coming to a point.
The Rufous Hummingbird is the most abundant species of hummingbird in Alaska, common in a range of habitats from forests to meadows, thickets, and wetlands. Males arrive during early spring, completing their migrations while snow is still on the ground, their journeys followed shortly by the females who begin to nest within 3 days of arriving.
These beautiful birds are commonly known for sipping nectar from plants and tubular flowers, but because few flowers are open at this time of year, they rely on tiny flying insects, spiders, and tree sap for food.
When flowers are in bloom, they feed on bright, tubular flowers like columbine, scarlet gilia, penstemon, Indian paintbrush, mints, lilies, fireweeds, larkspurs, and currants as their source of nectar.
- Scientific name: Calypte anna
- Length: 3.9 – 4.3 inches
- Weight: 0.1 – 0.2 oz
- Wingspan: 4.7 inches
Generally, Anna’s Hummingbirds sport green feathers along their backside with gray underparts.
Males also have a red crown and a rosy-pink throat, while females and immature birds have a bronze-to-gray speckled throat pattern, and some have a white patch with a pink or red mark in the middle of their throat.
Males have gray tail feathers with dark outer edges, and females have a rounded tail banded with white, gray, black, and green.
This hummingbird is found in Alaska after its spring migration through summer. During winter, they range along near the water of the temperate Pacific coast and southern Alaska.
If you love hummingbirds, you should definitely travel to the Tongass and Chugach National Forests to see these beautiful hummingbirds. They enjoy mountainous meadows, open woodland, and shrubland.
Anna’s Hummingbirds’ primary food source is nectar, though they’ll also feed on tree sap, spiders, and tiny flying insects, like midges, whiteflies, and leafhoppers. They will also feed on homemade nectar — basically, sugar water — placed in a nectar feeder as a source of supplemental food.
It is by far the most vocal hummingbird species in North America. You will certainly notice them when they are in your vicinity because the males sing a squeaky, buzzing song.
- Scientific name: Calypte costae
- Length: 3 – 3.5 inches
- Weight: 0.1 – 0.2 oz
- Wingspan: 4.3 inches
Males have an eye-catching purple throat and cap, with feathers that flare out around their neck. There is a white patch below its tail and gorget, and its back and flanks are metallic green, with a black tail and wings.
Females are much more muted in color, with a gray-green crown, pale eyebrows, and green-gray back and white underparts, without bright iridescent markings. Females’ tails are black with white tips on the outer feathers.
Typically desert hummingbirds, their habitat is dry sandy scrubland and deciduous forests. However, they also enjoy visiting urban areas with parks and gardens with traditional birdbaths and feeding stations.
As with the other species on this list, Costa’s Hummingbirds feed on nectar from flowering plants and eat small insects in mid-air. Like all hummingbirds, their agile aerobatics is amazing to watch.
Plant lots of sage, penstemon, flowering tobacco, and bush monkeyflower to attract them to your yard.
Often they are mistaken for Anna’s Hummingbird, but Costa’s Hummingbirds are an inch smaller, have shorter, more slender bills, and much longer gorget feathers than Anna’s.
While the list of hummingbirds in Alaska is not long, it certainly is filled with beautiful, interesting species. If you are a resident of southern Alaska, place a hummingbird feeder in your garden and plant some indigenous flowers to attract these bright little birds.
Check out this article that details 25 other amazing bird species that one can see in the 39th State. With such a wide diversity of habitats, it truly is a birder’s paradise.