Anna’s Hummingbird vs. Ruby-Throated Hummingbird: How To Identify These Beautiful Birds

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If you are lucky enough to spot a hummingbird in your garden, one of the first things you will want to know is what species of hummingbird you saw.

The good news is that identifying the hummingbird you just saw is usually fairly easy. By thinking about your geographical location, the time of year, the visual appearance of the bird, and its behavior, you can generally work out which species you are looking at.

You might encounter two types of hummingbirds in the US: Anna’s hummingbird and the Ruby-throated hummingbird. It is usually relatively simple to tell these two birds apart with a bit of observation; in any case, you are likely to see only one or the other depending on where you live.

What is an Anna’s Hummingbird?

Annas Hummingbird

Anna’s hummingbird is a medium-sized bird species that goes by the Latin name Calypte anna. It was named after Anna Massena, Duchess of Rivoli.

What is a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird?

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

The Ruby-throated hummingbird is the most common bird seen in eastern parts of North America, east of the Mississippi River. Its Latin name is Archilochus colubris.

What’s the Difference Between an Anna’s Hummingbird and a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird?

Fortunately, in most cases, these birds will not appear together. So it should not be necessary to visually work out which of the two you are looking at. However, as vagrants and occasional accidental visitors, Anna’s hummingbirds and Ruby-throated hummingbirds may occasionally be found in a particular area.

Where They Are Found

The thing is, Anna’s hummingbirds are typically present in the western United States, while Ruby-throated hummingbirds migrate up the eastern side of North America.

Anna’s hummingbirds are found along the western coast of North America, from southern Canada to northern Baja California, and inland to south and central Arizona, extreme southern Nevada, southeastern Utah, and western Texas.

They tend to be permanent residents within their range, except in the north of their current range, where most birds migrate back south in winter.

However, birds have been spotted far outside their range in southern Alaska, Saskatchewan, New York, Florida, Louisiana, and Newfoundland.

The population of Anna’s hummingbirds is believed to be relatively stable, at around 1.5 million birds. The birds are not endangered and have expanded their range northward since the 1970s. This is the only species of hummingbird in North America that has actually expanded its population since 1970.

The Ruby-throated hummingbird overwinters in Mexico and Central America, then migrates northward in spring east of the Mississippi River in the Eastern United States and into Canada. It stays there during the breeding and nesting season before flying back south in late summer or fall. This bird has the most extensive breeding range of any hummingbird in the United States.

Again, however, there have been rare, occasional sightings of Ruby-throated hummingbirds further west. So it is possible to glimpse these birds rarely, even if you live west of the Mississippi.

In short, if you live in the west, you are more likely to encounter an Anna’s hummingbird, while if you live in the eastern half of the US, you are far more likely to see a Ruby-throated hummingbird in your garden.

Differences in Appearance Between Anna’s Hummingbirds and Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds

Male Hummingbirds:

A male Anna’s hummingbird is the only North American hummingbird with a reddish pink crown and gorget. However, these are not always intensely colored and, depending on the light, may sometimes appear a dark or even black hue.

The stunning iridescence seen in pictures depends on the angle of the light and is not visible from all angles. Iridescence also alters with the protein in a male hummingbird’s diet. Those with plenty of protein have more iridescence than those with low protein intake.

The adult male Ruby-throated hummingbird has a colorful throat patch of iridescent ruby red bordered narrowly with velvety black on the upper margin. Again, this vivid color is not visible from all angles. But this patch does not extend onto the crown of the head. The male of this species also has a forked black tail with a faint violet sheen.

Female and Juvenile Hummingbirds:

Female and juvenile male Anna’s hummingbirds have a dull green crown, a gray throat with or without some red iridescence, a gray chest and belly, and a dark, rounded tail with white tips on the outer feathers.

The adult female Ruby-throated hummingbird has a notched tail with outer feathers banded in green, black, and white and a white throat that may be plain or lightly marked with dusky streaks or stipples. Juvenile males resemble adult females, though they typically have stronger throat markings.

Female Anna’s hummingbirds and Ruby-throated hummingbirds look similar. But a key distinguishing thing to look out for is greener washed sides in Anna’s hummingbird.

Differences in Behavior

When trying to work out which hummingbird you are looking at, another thing to look at is behavior.

Vocalizations, for example, are one area that might help you work out which hummingbird you have encountered. The vocalizations of Ruby-throated hummingbirds are rapid, squeaky chirps, while the male Anna’s hummingbird’s call is scratchy and metallic.

Unlike most northern temperate hummingbirds, the male Anna’s hummingbird sings during courtship. The song is thin and squeaky, interspersed with buzzes and chirps, and can last over ten seconds.

Comparing Other Hummingbirds:

Of course, it is important to remember that you may also be seeing other hummingbirds, not Anna’s hummingbird or the Ruby-throated hummingbird. So when trying to identify a hummingbird you have seen in your garden, you should also consider other hummingbirds that might be present in your area.

What is the difference between Anna’s hummingbirds and Rufous hummingbirds?

Where They Are Found

The rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) migrates through the Rocky Mountains and adjacent lowland areas from May to September to take advantage of the wildflower season, primarily residing in Mexico over the winter.

Differences in Appearance Between Anna’s Hummingbirds and Rufous Hummingbirds

Rufous hummingbird males have an iridescent orange-red throat patch or gorget, rufous faces, flanks and tails, and white breasts. Some males may also have some green on their backs and/or their crowns.

Female hummingbirds have green, white, and sometimes some iridescent orange feathers in the center of the throat and dark tails with white tips and rufous bases.

Differences in Behavior

One interesting feature of Rufous hummingbird flight is that it supports its body weight during hovering primarily by wing downstrokes (75% of lift) rather than by upstrokes (25% of lift).

What is the difference between Anna’s hummingbirds and Broad-Tailed hummingbirds?

Where They Are Found

The Broad-tailed hummingbird is found from Guatemala to Mexico, the western United States, and Western Canada during summer. So their range does frequently overlap with that of Anna’s hummingbird.

Differences in Appearance Between Anna’s Hummingbirds and Broad-Tailed Hummingbirds

Adult male Broad-tailed hummingbirds have bright rose-red gorgets and white rings around their eyes which are key identifying characteristics. They are big-headed for a hummingbird and have white breasts and green and buff-colored flanks. Crucially, unlike the red-crowned Anna’s hummingbirds, they have a green crown.

There is far less difference between the females and immature males of these two species. But female and immature Anna’s hummingbirds have a white arc over the eye, extending down the side of the face, unlike the female Broad-tailed hummingbird with a pale eye ring.

Differences in Behavior

Most birds of this species migrate, while Anna’s tend to remain year-round in most of their range.

The Broad-tailed hummingbird produces several different sound patterns. This bird’s call sounds like a sharp “cheet” repeated several times in quick succession.

What is the difference between Anna’s hummingbirds and Black-Chinned hummingbirds?

Where They Are Found

This species has been known to hybridize with Anna’s hummingbird. It is also found in most of the western United States, reaching north into Canada in Alberta and British Columbia, east to Oklahoma, and as far south as Mexico.

Differences in Appearance Between Anna’s Hummingbirds and Black-Chinned Hummingbirds

Adult Black-chinned hummingbirds are metallic green above and white below with green flanks. The adult male has a black face and chin, a glossy purple throat band, and a dark forked tail.

The female has a dark rounded tail with white tips and no throat patch; they are similar to female Ruby-throated hummingbirds and can be difficult to distinguish from female or juvenile Anna’s hummingbirds. However, Anna’s hummingbirds are plumpers with shorter bills, and most Anna’s females also have red spots on their throats.

Differences in Behavior

Unlike Anna’s hummingbird, the Black-chinned hummingbird favors a breeding habitat that is open and semi-arid, usually near water. Black-chinned hummingbirds prefer to nest 6–12 feet above the ground.

Unlike most passerines, the agonistic call of the Black-chinned hummingbird is acoustically complex, with notes ordered in non-random patterns even more complex than their songs.

Of course, there are other hummingbirds to consider, depending on where you live. But close observation will typically allow you to work out which hummingbird or hummingbirds you have in your garden.

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Elizabeth Waddington

Elizabeth Waddington is a conservation, rewilding, organic gardening and sustainability specialist who loves everything nature-related. She loves helping others around the world connect with the wildlife and wonders around them. When not creating wildlife-wise, eco-friendly designs, or writing about the topics that inspire her, she loves spending time watching the birds on and around her own rural property, or heading out on camping or hiking adventures to spot birds and other wildlife in a range of habitats.