Hummingbirds are a much-loved tiny bird found throughout most of the United States. They are beautiful and agile flyers that frequently visit backyard nectar feeders and gardens full of blooms.
Often the male of a particular hummingbird species will appear more brightly colored with a colorful throat patch. However, this is not true of all hummingbird species, including juveniles that look like females. Other ways to tell them apart are size, tail shape, location of aggressive behaviors, and more.
Often careful observation can help a birdwatcher figure out if a visiting hummingbird is male or female. Read on to learn more about these differences.
Comparison: Male Vs. Female Hummingbirds
The table below provides ways to generally tell male and female hummingbirds apart.
Keep in mind that these traits may not apply to all species of hummingbirds.
|Traits||Male Hummingbird||Female Hummingbird|
|Gorget (Throat patch)||Most have a gorget||Do not have a gorget|
|Color||Shiny, bright, vivid variety of colors such as red, purple, green, & orange||Duller and darker colors of green & brown
|Tail||Forked tails |
With black feathers
Some can “buzz” with their tail feathers
|Rounded, blunt tails
With black feathers tipped in white
Weigh 0.085 to 0.127 ounces
Weigh 0.098 to 0.159 ounces
|Aggression||Aggressive over food sources and territories|
Often more aggressive overall than females
|Aggressive over food sources and nests|
|Nesting & Offspring||Does not participate in nest building or raising offspring||Builds the nest
Incubates the eggs
Takes care of the chicks
|Migration||Migrate earlier than females||Migrate later than males|
7 Differences Between Male & Female Hummingbirds
1. Male Hummingbirds Have Gorgets
Male hummingbirds have a vibrant-colored throat, referred to as gorgets.
While a gorget was a metallic collar to protect a knight-in-armor, a hummingbird’s gorget is used for courtship.
The gorget has iridescent plumage which light reflects to make a stunning flash of colors. The male will fly in a U-shaped pattern or hover in front of the female, often making a dive facing the sun.
Some male hummingbirds, such as the rufous hummingbirds, can flare their gorgets. Some species of hummingbirds have gorgets that extend up around the head.
One exception is the male violet-crowned hummingbird. The male of this species is the only one in North America without a gorget.
2. Male Hummingbirds Are Brightly Colored
Most male hummingbird species are more brightly colored than their female counterparts.
Males can be a combination of vivid, bright colors such as red, purple, pink, green, orange, and more.
Females are often duller or darker in colors such as green or brown or have lighter tones and bellies.
It is thought that males are brightly colored to attract mates, and this is a sign of health and vitality. Whereas duller colors for females can help them to camouflage better to take care of their eggs and chicks.
For example, the male ruby-throated hummingbird is a vivid green, with a black mask, and an iridescent ruby-red gorget. The female does not have a gorget and is mostly white in her underbelly. She has metallic green upper parts.
There are some species exceptions, such as the Mexican violetear hummingbird, where males and females are nearly identical.
Juvenile hummingbirds generally look more like females, regardless of sex. Male juveniles will eventually molt and have bright plumage and iridescent gorgets.
3. Male & Female Hummingbirds Have Different Tails
If you can catch a glance at the hummingbird’s tail, you’ll likely see a great clue about what gender it is.
Male hummingbirds tend to have forked tails with black feathers. Female hummingbirds have rounded, blunt tails with black feathers tipped in white.
Some species of male hummingbirds can vibrate or buzz their tail feathers as they fly. They produce this sound most often during the breeding season. Species such as the Anna’s and Costa’s hummingbirds make this tail sound.
4. Females Weigh More Than Male Hummingbirds
While it can be hard to decipher, females are slightly bigger than males. Overall size varies by species from the smallest bee hummingbird (Mellisuga helenae) to the largest giant hummingbird (Patagona gigas).
On average, female hummingbirds weigh 0.098 to 0.159 ounces and males weigh 0.085 to 0.127 ounces. Females tend to be larger to carry eggs and use their body heat to incubate them.
5. Male & Female Hummingbirds Show Aggression Over Different Things
Both males and females will show aggression over food sources, but males tend to be more aggressive and likely to injure another bird.
Males are also aggressive over territory as they attempt to attract females to their area.
Females tend to be more aggressive in protecting their eggs and chicks from predators.
Hummingbirds show aggression in the following ways:
- Charge & Chase: Charging at and chasing an intruder away
- Dives: Diving from above and hovering in front of the intruder; the tail may make a buzzing or sharp sound
- Body Language: Flaring the tail, raising crown feathers, flaring gorgets (males), and pointing their bill at the intruder
- Sound: Loud and fast-paced chirps, chitters, and buzzing
- Fights: Often fights are reserved as the last option for aggression and are more commonly done by the male. They can use their dagger-like bills and tiny, yet sharp talons against an intruder.
This video shows the slow-motion action of hummingbirds fighting over food sources:
6. Female Hummingbirds Build Nests & Raise Offspring Alone
Male hummingbirds mate with a female and then no longer interact with her. He goes off to court and mate with a different female.
After mating, each female then builds a tiny cup-shaped egg for 2 tiny jellybean-sized eggs.
She incubates them and then feeds the hatchlings all by herself.
She will chase away any intruding creatures, including male hummingbirds. It is thought that the female does not want the bright colors of the male to show predators where they are.
7. Male Hummingbirds Migrate Before Females
Male hummingbirds tend to arrive at sites before females when migrating. This is to allow them to establish or maintain their territories before the females arrive.
If a colorful hummingbird with a shiny throat patch appears at a feeder or amongst garden flowers, it is likely a male.
Females are duller in color to camouflage as they care for their chicks.
Other differences include size, where the female is bigger, and that they migrate after the males have already left.
Male hummingbirds tend to be more aggressive over territories and females over their nests.