How do you tell a male from a female hummingbird?

Hummingbirds are some of the most spectacular and fascinating birds found in nature. Their tiny size, incredible speed, and ability to hover make them truly unique. Hummingbirds are native to the Americas and there are over 300 different species. While they may all look alike to the untrained eye, there are distinct differences between male and female hummingbirds of the same species that allow for identification.

Size Differences

One of the most noticeable ways to distinguish males from females is by size. In most hummingbird species, the males are slightly larger than the females. The size dimorphism is not extreme, but it is enough to be able to see a difference when observing males and females of the same species side by side. Here are some examples of how size can aid in sexing hummingbirds:

  • Ruby-throated Hummingbird – Males measure 3.5 inches on average, while females are about 3.25 inches in length
  • Black-chinned Hummingbird – Males are around 3.25 inches compared to 3 inches for females
  • Anna’s Hummingbird – Males reach 4 inches long, females max out at around 3.75 inches

Keep in mind that because the size differences are subtle, it’s best to observe numerous individuals of each sex to get a good idea of the typical size for males versus females.


In most hummingbird species, the males have much more vibrant, iridescent plumage than the females. Here are some examples:

  • Male Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have a bright ruby red throat, while females have white throats
  • Male Allen’s Hummingbirds have a flaming orange throat, females have pale orange
  • Male Costa’s Hummingbirds sport a vivid purple crown, females have dull gray crowns

The bold, flashy colors of the males serve to attract females during courtship displays. Meanwhile, the muted, camouflaged plumage of females helps them blend into surroundings while incubating eggs.

Tail Shape

The tail shape of male and female hummingbirds also shows some distinct differences. Males of most species have tail feathers that are pointed and forked, with the outer feathers narrowing to fine tips. Female tail feathers tend to be rounded or squared off at the ends. Here are a few examples:

  • Male Anna’s Hummingbirds have outer tail feathers that extend nearly an inch beyond the rest of the tail, females have straight edged tails
  • Male Allen’s Hummingbirds have outer tail feathers about 1.5 inches longer than the central feathers, giving them a dramatic fork, females have barely forked tails
  • Male Rufous Hummingbirds have tails where the outer feathers are 50% longer than the middle pair, females have slightly rounded tails

The specialized tail shape of the males allows for greater maneuverability and impressive aerial displays used to court females.

Behavioral Differences

There are some characteristic behavioral differences between male and female hummingbirds as well:

  • Territorial displays – Males will perform dramatic dive displays, rapid ascents, and aerial ‘dog fights’ to defend nectar and nesting territory from other males. Females do not typically partake in these behaviors.
  • Nest building – Female hummingbirds alone construct the tiny cups of bound plant materials and spider webs that serve as nests. Males are not involved in nest construction.
  • Incubating/caring for young – Female hummingbirds incubate the eggs and protect the hatchlings once they emerge. Males do not participate in incubation or feeding of chicks.
  • Feeding – Males tend to feed in more open, exposed locations while females prefer to feed lower in shrubs and trees. This helps minimize time away from the nest for females.

Paying attention to behaviors like territoriality, nesting duties, and feeding preferences can provide valuable clues into whether you’re observing a male or female hummingbird.

Juveniles and Immatures

Identifying the sex of juvenile and immature hummingbirds can be tricky since the males do not acquire their adult coloring until their first molt. Here are some tips for determining sex in young birds:

  • Look for early signs of reddish feathers coming in on the throat if you suspect it may be a young male Ruby-throat
  • Look for longer outer tail feathers on juveniles even if coloration is still primarily female-like
  • Pay attention to behavior – males may perform practice courtship displays like flying in loops
  • Females tend to have a little more streaking on the throat
  • Holding birds gently in hand can allow closer inspection of features like tail shape

With patience and practice, the subtle cues like tail length, feather patterns, and behaviors can help identify the sex of juvenile hummingbirds.

When Sex Identification is Difficult

While the differences detailed above provide reliable ways to distinguish male from female hummingbirds in most cases, there are scenarios when determining sex with certainty can be challenging even for experts. Here are some examples:

  • A female with abnormal coloration that resembles a male
  • A young male that has not molted into adult plumage
  • Distant or poor sightings that do not allow details to be discerned
  • Species in which the sexes are nearly identical like the White-eared Hummingbird
  • Intersex birds that display a mix of male and female features

In these ambiguous cases, it’s best not to guess. Look for multiple confirming field marks and behaviors before positively identifying the sex of a tricky hummingbird.


Telling male and female hummingbirds apart does take some practice, but with keen observation of details like size, plumage, tail shape, and behavior the differences become more apparent. Focus on subtle but consistent distinctions like a bit of extra length in tail feathers or more vivid gorget coloration. Over time, you will develop an eye for spotting the characteristics of each sex even among the tiniest, fastest-moving hummingbirds. Paying close attention to hummingbird details allows you to appreciate both the diversity and uniqueness of these captivating creatures. Being able to properly identify the sex of individuals you observe will also help contribute valuable data to researchers studying hummingbird populations and behavior.

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