Hummingbirds In South Carolina

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Most of South Carolina has a humid, subtropical climate with incredibly warm summer months and mild winters, though areas in the northwestern mountain ranges can experience cool-to-cold weather conditions as well in the winter months. 

Generally, the average temperature is 90° F across most of the state during the summer season, with high humidity. Winter temperatures average in the high-60s°F along the western coast, with overnight cold fronts around 38°F.

Due to its humid atmosphere and position along the Atlantic coast, South Carolina experiences heavy rain each year for an average of 48 inches.

South Carolina also hosts a wide range of plant and animal species, including 437 bird species.

Of these species, only one major hummingbird species is an occasional common resident: the Ruby-Throated hummingbird. Another hummingbird species is seasonally present, though: the Rufous hummingbird.

Some birders have reported seeing eight other species of hummingbirds in South Carolina. However, they tend to be accidental vagrants from the West.

Identifying South Carolina’s Hummingbirds

Ornithologists classify hummingbirds in the family Trochilidae, which occurs exclusively in North, South, and Central America.

Hummingbirds received their common name because of the humming noise their rapidly beating wings produce. They have fairly small bodies and prefer nectar from plants as their primary source of food. Hummingbirds are also the only type of bird that can fly backwards.

In addition to nectar from plants, hummingbirds also feed on arthropods that they take on the wing (hawking), from leaves, or from spiderwebs. Unlike other vertebrates, they can burn both glucose and fructose.

We can classify the hummingbird population in South Carolina as “frequently found,” “seasonal migrants,” or “accidental vagrants.”

List of Hummingbirds Frequently Found In South Carolina

Only one hummingbird species is frequently found in South Carolina.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris)

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

  • Body Length: 2.8 — 3.5 inches
  • Body Weight: 0.1 — 0.2 ounces
  • Wingspan: 4.1-4.3 inches

Description: 

Ruby-throated hummingbirds have emerald green backs, wings, and heads, and a pale gray underbelly. Females and juvenile birds have notched tails; mature males have a forked tail.

This bird gets its name from the beautiful ruby-red throat sported by males, though females and immature birds have a white, rather plain throat.

Additional Information: 

Ruby throats are fairly common hummingbirds across most of eastern North America, inhabiting the margins of deciduous forest, stream banks, orchards, meadows, old fields, and gardens.

The ruby-throated hummingbird breeds in the summer, which is when you’re likely to find this popular hummingbird gathered around nectar feeders and traditional bird baths. Be aware, though, that during their actual breeding time, Ruby throats are fairly aggressive birds and will often defend their territory from other males and even larger birds.

They feed on nectar from plants such as red, orange, and bright pink tubular flowers like scarlet beebalm and native honeysuckles. They supplement this food with small insects.

Expect arrivals in spring, generally from early April to May, at their summer breeding grounds, and departures for the long, impressive journey to wintering grounds in Central America by the end of September.

Seasonal Migrant Hummingbirds Of South Carolina

Only one species of hummingbird is a seasonal migrant to South Carolina: the Rufous hummingbird. Rufous sightings are less common than they are for Ruby throats. 

Rufous Hummingbirds (Selasphorus rufus)

Rufous Hummingbird

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

Description: 

Rufous hummingbirds are named for the males’ orange-red throat — hence the term “rufous.” Additionally, males sport bold orange colors on their backs and stomachs with bits of green on their shoulders and a prominent white chest. When folded, their tails come to a point.
 
Females and immature Rufous hummingbirds have similar colorations, though they lack much of the rufousness for which they’re named. Instead, they sport greenish heads, backs, and wings, showing rufous colors only on their flanks and in some patches on their tails. 

Additional Information: 

Rufous hummingbirds establish feeding territories along forest edges, streamsides, and mountain meadows. A breeding bird will also establish territory along forest edges, clearings, or in brushy second growth in Western and Northwestern regions. 

They leave the eastern states in late summer from July to August, making the trek over land through the Rocky Mountains to take advantage of wildflowers and winter homes in southern California, Arizona, and Mexico.

Their primary food source consists of nectar from spring flowers, insects, and small spiders. They will also drink sap from holes made by sapsuckers (a genus of woodpeckers) or homemade nectar made from sugar and water if left in a feeder. 

Rufous hummingbirds are famously pugnacious, defending nectar sources against intruders, even larger hummingbirds or rodents.

Accidental Vagrant Hummingbirds In South Carolina

The following hummingbird species are not commonly found in South Carolina and may have been seen only once in recent years. Generally, they are spotted along the overland route of their migration map, only stopping for a brief period as they journey across North America. 

Furthermore, these birds are often immature, making them difficult to identify. In fact, people regularly mistake sphinx moths for hummers!

Anna’s Hummingbird (Calypte anna)

Anna's Hummingbird

  • Body Length: 3.9 inches
  • Body Weight: 0.1 — 0.2 ounces
  • Wingspan: 4.7 inches

Description:

Anna’s hummingbirds have a metallic green color, with males having more pronounced, dark green backs than females or immature birds who are more muted with grayish undersides.

Males also sport metallic rose-pink throats and crowns, while females may have a speckled throat pattern with hints of pink. 

Additional Information:

Anna’s hummingbirds are found mainly along the Pacific coastline, from south Texas and northern Mexico to southern Alaska. They are one of only three species of hummingbird central to the US and Canada.

Additionally, Anna’s hummers don’t follow the typical migration of hummingbirds, opting instead to establish wintering grounds in northern climates. They are summer residents in higher altitude areas, but when the weather turns cold they move to lower altitudes.

Because the actual ranges in which they reside are so varied, they can be found in an equally varied number of habitats including streamsides, chaparral, open woodlands, coastal sage scrub, gardens, and parks.

Like other hummers, their diet consists of any source of nectar and insects.

Anna’s are particularly vocal hummingbirds, and their summer breeding grounds are flooded with the males’ buzzing songs. They are also highly protective of these breeding grounds and will regularly make dive displays at other birds and people on occasion. 

Allen’s Hummingbirds (Selasphorus sasin)

Allen's Hummingbird

  • Body Length: 3.5 inches
  • Body Weight: 0.1 ounces
  • Wingspan: 4.3 inches

Description: 

Allen’s hummingbirds look highly similar to the Rufous hummingbird, being light copper colored, though distinctly with green backs which the Rufous hummers lack. 

Males have copper tails and bellies, green backs, and bright reddish-orange throats.

Additional Information: 

Allen’s hummingbirds inhabit chaparral, coastal forests, open oak woodland, parks, and gardens.

This southwestern hummingbird generally nests in coastal California and winters in Mexico. Due to climate change, weather-related conditions, and other environmental factors, though, many remain in California year-round or migrate to the eastern US for the winter, which may be the cause for some hummingbird sightings in eastern states.

Allen’s hummingbirds are nectar feeders and supplement this with insects.

Black-chinned Hummingbirds (Archilochus alexandri)

Black-chinned Hummingbirds

  • Body Length: 3.5 inches
  • Body Weight: 0.1 — 0.2 ounces
  • Wingspan: 4.3 inches

Description:

Female and immature black-chinned hummingbirds have green backs, heads, and wings, with a pale grayish-to-white underbelly. Their throats are sometimes lightly speckled.

Male black-chinned hummingbirds have green backs, heads, and wings, with a light green belly and gray chest. Their throats are black, with a strip of iridescent purple at the lower edge.

Additional Information: 

Black-chinned hummingbirds inhabit streamsides, woodland margins, parks, and gardens where they feed on nectar from tubular flowers and insects. 

In the summer, black-chinned hummingbirds are found enjoying the hot weather from British Columbia to California and Texas in the south. Vagrants sometimes appear in South Carolina.

Calliope Hummingbirds (Stellula calliope, formerly Archilochus calliope)

Calliope Hummingbirds

  • Body Length: 3.1 — 3.5 inches
  • Body Weight: 0.071 — 0.1 ounce
  • Wingspan: 4.1 — 4.3 inches

Description: 

Calliope hummingbirds are incredibly tiny and have a hunchback posture. Females and immatures have a light green back and a peachy wash across their underparts.

Male Calliope hummingbirds have a light green back, a greenish-gray chest, and distinctive, discrete rays of magenta feathers on their throats.

Additional information:

Calliope hummingbirds inhabit canyons, forest clearings, and streamsides, breeding at elevations from 4,000 feet to near the treeline. They have been observed as high as 11,000 feet.

They are distributed from southern Canada to northern Mexico in the summer, migrating to southern Mexico in the winter.

These are the smallest birds in North America and the smallest long-distance migrant bird globally, making a 5,600 mile flight during the fall and spring hummingbird migration seasons.

Calliope hummingbirds’ diet consists of nectar and insects.

Broad-Billed Hummingbird (Cynanthus latirostris)

Broad-Billed Hummingbird

  • Length: 3.25 — 4 inches
  • Weight: 0.1 ounces
  • Wingspan: 5 inches

Description:

Females and immatures have golden-green backs and some golden-green on their heads. Their wings, underparts, and faces are generally gray. Their faces show a white stripe behind the eye.

Males are a vivid bluish-green, with a blue throat and a dark gray patch above their distinctive bills: broad, red, and tipped with black.

Additional information:

They occur primarily in central and northwest Mexico; however, their breeding range is marginally in the southern USA (particularly in southern Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas). 

They inhabit mountainous canyons in these regions.

During breeding season, the male courts the female with a precision flight display that observers have compared to a hypnotist’s swinging pocket watch.

Buff-bellied Hummingbird (Amazilia yucatanensis)

Buff-Bellied Hummingbird

  • Length: 3.9 – 4.3 inches
  • Weight: 0.1 ounces
  • Wingspan: 5.75 inches

Description:

This medium-sized hummingbird has a buff belly and metallic olive-green upper parts, with females being less colorful than males. Their bill is slender and red, with a darker tip.

The males also have a metallic golden-green throat.

Additional information:

They breed between southern Texas and the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico, favoring semi-arid scrub, pine-oak forests, and streamside habitats, as well as gardens.

There are three subspecies, of which only one occurs in the United States.

Conclusion

The ruby-throated hummingbird is the only species that commonly breeds in South Carolina.

There is one seasonal migrant species, the Rufous Hummingbird, which sometimes occurs in South Carolina in the summer.

The other hummingbirds listed here are accidental vagrants that are generally not found in the state.

Climate change and other environmental factors may alter this, as warming environments lead to opportunities for western species in eastern states.

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