Hummingbirds In Nebraska

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Nebraska is located in the west-central area of the United States. Well known for its agriculture, particularly cattle ranching, due to its rolling rangelands and prairies, Nebraska is relatively sparsely populated with around 1,961,504 residents, in a total area of 77,347 square miles, and an elevation ranging between 840 and 5 426 feet.

Nebraska’s climate experiences extremes in precipitation, temperatures, and wind speed. Summer highs can reach more than 100°F, but average in the 90s°F.

Winter averages from below 0°F, up to around 25°F, with annual precipitation of higher than 30 inches in the southeast and less than 16 inches in the west.

Although Nebraska is relatively limited in its wildlife, the state has around 465 observed bird species. Of this list of bird species, four are hummingbirds.

The Hummingbirds Of Nebraska

Hummers are popular birds in the birding community. They are the smallest type of bird, ranging from 2.25 inches to 8 inches long.

Different types of hummingbirds can flap their wings between 80 beats a second for the smallest birds to 10 beats per second for the larger birds, with an average heart rate of 1,200 beats per minute.

They are the only birds that can intentionally fly backward.

Hummingbirds belong to the Trochilidae family and constitute around 320 species. Interestingly, all wild hummingbird species are located in the Americas.

Of these, 12 are regularly located in the United States.

The four usual hummingbird species located in Nebraska are Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Rufous Hummingbirds, Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, and Calliope Hummingbirds.

That said, only the Ruby-throated hummingbird is a common resident, with the Rufous hummingbird frequently spotted as a migrant bird. The other two species are rarely seen in Nebraska.

Resident Hummingbird Species Of Nebraska

The Ruby-throated hummingbird is the only common resident in Nebraska.  

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris)

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

  • Length: 2.8 — 3.5 inches
  • Weight: 0.1 — 0.2 oz
  • Wingspan: 3.1 — 4.3 inches

Description:

As you can guess, this species is named for its ruby-red throat. Male ruby-throated hummingbirds have an emerald green back and tail, a white-collar, and bright red feathers under their chin.

Females lack the flashy throat patch of their male counterparts, but share the other colors, though they are duller than the males. Females have a white throat with white, black, and grey bands across their tails.

Additional information: 

During the summer breeding season, the Ruby-throated hummingbird breeds across eastern North America, inhabiting deciduous forests and edges, gardens, meadows, and parks.

These beautiful birds leave for their wintering grounds in Central America in late September/early October and return to Nebraska (eastern USA) around mid-May.

Among others, the Ruby-throated hummingbirds’ diet consists primarily of lots of nectar from plants such as the cardinal flower, honeysuckle, red morning glory flower, trumpet creeper, and other native nectar-filled flowers.

However, they also consume insects caught from leaves, spiders’ webs, or during flight.

Males will defend the area around them from other males.

Seasonal Migrants Seen In Nebraska

Although not a resident species, the Rufous hummingbird is often seen in the western parts of Nebraska during their fall migrations.

Rufous Hummingbirds (Selasphorus rufus)

Rufous Hummingbirds

  • Length: 2.8 — 3.5 inches
  • Weight: 0.1 — 0.2 oz
  • Wingspan: 4.3 inches

Description:

The backs and crowns of male Rufous hummingbirds are orange to green in color with a beautiful reddish-orange iridescent throat. Males also have a white breast and orange belly.

Females’ flanks have a rufous hue, with patches of rust color on green tails. Females have a bronze-green back, a white chest and throat, and an orange spot in the middle.

Additional information:

These migratory hummingbirds have a breeding distribution stretching from Alaska through the western and northwestern parts of North America, where they occupy forest edges, gardens, mountain meadows, and streamsides.

Some Rufous hummingbirds migrate around 3,000 miles, migrating to Mexico via the Rocky Mountains in the fall and returning in early February via the west coast.

Rufous hummingbirds chiefly feed on nectar for energy, sourcing it from gilia, penstemons, and Indian paintbrush, but they also eat arthropods caught during flight or from spider webs. 

Male Rufous hummingbirds are highly territorial. They have no issues with chasing away rivals, as well as larger hummingbird species that draw too close to the rufous’ favorite nectar feeders.

Rarely Seen Hummingbirds Of Nebraska

Although these two species are not often seen in the state, they may be spotted during their migration south for the winter on exceedingly rare occasions.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird (Selasphorus platycercus)

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

  • Length: 3.1 — 3.5 inches
  • Weight: 0.1 — 0.2 oz
  • Wingspan: 5.25 inches

Description:

Male Broad-tailed hummingbirds have rose-red throats and white chests. Additionally, they have a green head, back, and tail, with green or buff-colored flanks.

Females are similar in their overall color, except they have green speckled throats and cheeks, while their eyes have light-colored rings around them. Females also have a white-tipped tail. 

Additional information:

Although these birds are one of the rarest hummingbird species in Nebraska, they have been observed in Dawes and Scotts Bluff counties.

Their typical distribution is from Western Mexico, through the USA, to western Canada. Their preferred habitat includes high elevation meadows (5,000 to 10,500 feet), evergreen forest verges, and oak woodlands.

In August, Broad-tailed hummingbirds migrate to their winter territories in Mexico and frequent dry thorn forests, pine-oak forests, and tropical highlands. They return to the north in March.

Broad-tailed hummingbirds feed primarily on nectar from tubular flowers, Indian paintbrush, larkspur, red columbine, sage, and scarlet gilia. They also eat insects.

Calliope Hummingbirds (Stellula calliope)

Calliope Hummingbirds

  • Length: 3.1 — 3.5 inches
  • Weight: 1 oz
  • Wingspan: 4.1 — 4.3 inches

Description: 

Male Calliope hummingbirds’ backs, wings, and tails are green. Their bellies and chests are white, and they are characterized by magenta or purple throat feathers.

Females are similar to males in the green and white coloration. However, they lack bright throat feathers. Instead, their throats are white with dark marks and a peach hue below.

Additional information: 

Calliope hummingbirds’ distribution stretches from northern Mexico, through the western USA, into southern Canada. They’re rarely found in Nebraska but do breed in west Wyoming.

Their preferred habitat is aspen thickets, canyons, open forest clearings, and mountain meadows at elevations of between 4,000 and 11,000 feet, where they feed on nectar and insects.

Calliope hummingbirds migrate south through the Rocky Mountains in the fall, to winter homes in Mexico where they spend time in pine-oak and thorn forests.

They return north in spring along the Pacific lowlands, where they frequent coastal scrub and forests, among other habitats.

Conclusion

Within the extreme eastern reaches of Nebraska, the Ruby-throated hummingbird is the only type of hummingbird found nesting during the summer months.

The other three species of hummingbirds found in Nebraska are only seasonal visitors. The Rufous is the most frequent, while the Calliope hummingbird is the least frequently sighted.

These pretty little birds highlight many gardens, and increased sightings may be linked to climate change and a shift in previous distribution limitations.

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