North Dakota is a remarkable place with welcoming communities and wide-open locations worth exploring, from skating on the frozen water of lakes and skiing in the mountains in the winter to visiting parks, open restaurants, artisans, and breweries in the summer months when.
Famous for the Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the International Peace Garden, North Dakota also has a seemingly endless range of fascinating places to explore in the rugged badlands and lush woodland settings.
North Dakota also offers fans of bird sighting a wide range of exciting opportunities, homing 455 beautiful bird species. Initially, Ruby-throated hummingbirds, named for their colorful gorget, made up the entirety of the hummingbird population in North Dakota. However, today five hummingbird species are recorded, of which most are rare species passing through during their spring migration.
Let’s help you identify each on your next visit to North Dakota.
Ruby-Throated Hummingbird (Archilochus Colubris)
- Length: 2.8 to 3.5 inches
- Weight: 12 ounces for males and 0.13 ounces for females
- Wingspan: 3.1 to 4.3 inches
Male Ruby-throated hummingbirds have dark, black facial features with an iridescent ruby-red throat that typically appears dark in poor lighting. In addition, the males showcase a grayish-white chest, metallic green flanks and crowns, and forked tails with a faint violet color.
Female Ruby-throated hummingbirds have plain or lightly marked white throats with dusky specks of color or streaks and slight buff flanks. In addition, their sides are less brilliant in color than the males, and they have a notched tail instead of a deeply forked tail.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds are the only common hummingbirds in North Dakota, typically present in the eastern half of the state. More so, these year-round hummingbirds usually arrive between the 1st week of April and June, leaving from late August to about the 3rd week of October.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds feed on small insects or nectar from flowers to fuel their active lifestyles. So, consider planting native nectar-rich and tubular flowers, like trumpet vine, milkweed, ironweed, and prairie clover in your garden to attract these whimsical birds.
Both male and female Ruby-throated hummingbirds tend to display aggressive behavior towards giant insects and other birds to defend their territory and protect food sources. As a result, the aggressive birds typically use unique acrobatic aerial or dive displays to ward off these unwanted guests.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds accomplish a nonstop, 500-mile flight along their migration route from Central America across the Gulf of Mexico during their fall and spring migration. Considering that these tiny birds mostly weigh as little as one US penny or less, it’s a pretty impressive journey!
Calliope Hummingbird (Stellula calliope)
- Length: 2.8 to 3.9 inches
- Weight: 0.07 to 0.1 ounces
- Wingspan: 4.3 inches
Male Calliope hummingbirds sport iridescent purple crowns and a white throat, with beautiful reddish-orange iridescent throat feathers that, when erected, showcase a “whiskered” look. The males also have metallic green flanks and a dark tail.
In comparison, the female hummingbird sports a soft whitish underbelly and gorget with dark specks and streaks, a pinkish wash on its side, and a dark tail with white tips.
Calliope hummingbirds are occasionally seen darting from flower to flower in North Dakota, some hummingbird enthusiasts claim. These zipping hummingbirds are in North Dakota for a short time before their southern migration across North America for warmer temperatures.
This hummingbird species is the tiniest species of birds in the United States, weighing less than a penny! More so, these teeny birds are the smallest-bodied long-distance migrants worldwide.
Male Calliopes vigorously defend their nesting ground while typically breeding in active bird nests in conifer forests. However, the nesting hummingbirds are generally off to Mexico before the youngling hatch.
The Calliope hummingbird’s name is derived from a Greek word meaning “beautiful voice,” but quite ironically, the Calliopes have limited vocal ability.
Broad-Tailed Hummingbird (Selasphorus Platycercus)
- Length: 4 inches
- Weight: 0.13 ounces
- Wingspan: 5.25 inches
Broad-tailed hummingbird males sport a gorgeous, colorful gorget with rose-red feathers and contrasting white chest feathers, and metallic green-gray flanks.
In comparison, Broad-tailed hummingbird females lack the flashy throat patch. Instead, they display pale white chests, similar green-gray flanks, and buff, rufous or brown coloring on their tail feathers.
The Broad-tailed hummingbird is a rare sight in North Dakota. Its wintering range usually spans from the Mexican border to as far as Guatemala away from areas with colder temperatures.
Broad-tailed hummingbirds enjoy feeding on nectar-rich and brightly colored flowers. Additionally, these aggressive hummingbirds will defend these areas with interesting dive displays.
Broad-tailed hummers make unique calls like tiny bells ringing while perched in the forest trees or rocky mountain areas.
Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus Rufus)
- Length: 3.5 inches
- Weight: 0.07 to 0.17 ounces
- Wingspan: 4.3 inches
Male Rufous hummingbirds display a beige underbelly, rusty, copper-orange rufous crown, back, and bright throat feathers. However, about five to ten percent of males can show a greenish wash on their heads and back.
Female Rufous hummingbirds have green heads and backs and white, slightly speckled gorgets with a flash of color in an orange or red splotch. Lastly, the females display buff chests and dark green tails with white tips and a rusty, rufous base.
Rufous hummingbirds are a rare sight in North Dakota.
Rufous hummingbirds are well-known for their highly aggressive nature around food sources and breeding range; they are fearless enough to attack animals like squirrels and chipmunks. Additionally, they produce a variety of threat displays, including a distinctive humming sound of high-pitched, chattering vocalizations, dive displays, and tail fanning.
Despite their petite bodies, Rufous hummingbirds have the longest migration routes of all birds in the United States, traveling an impressive 2,000 miles from Alaska to Mexico and back.
Rufous hummingbirds have excellent memories and can frequently be seen at the location of old an hummingbird feeder even after it was taken away.
Costa’s Hummingbird (Calypte Costae)
- Length: 3 to 3.5 inches
- Weight: 0.0035 ounces for males and 0.0038 ounces for females
- Wingspan: 4.7 inches
Male Costa hummingbirds have vibrant purple crowns and throats with green flanks and backs. Their elongated purple gorget feathers flare down their throat, displaying a “mustache” appearance.
On the contrary, the female birds have a faint color pattern: greyish-green heads and backs with whitish underbellies and buffy-colored flanks.
Costa’s hummingbirds are a rare sight in North Dakota.
Costa’s hummingbirds are typical in scrub or woodland habitats with native plant life such as desert scrub, cactus, and most commonly, the Joshua tree. Costa’s hummingbirds frequently source a method of pollination for desert plants, cacti, and other fibrous plant material.
Costa’s species get their common name from a French expert and collector of hummingbirds named Jules Bourcier. Bourcier named the bird after his dear friend, Louis Marie Pantaleon Costa de Beauregard.
Of the five hummingbirds found in North Dakota, only the Ruby-throated hummingbird is a native breeder to the state; the other four species are rare or occasional visitors, viewable for a couple of weeks a year.
Remember that nectar-rich, exotic flowers and hummingbird feeders will make a beautiful display in color to attract these little fellas to backyard gardens.
To broader your knowledge of the exciting bird species in the state, consider reading the 12 must-see owl species of North Dakota.