Once summer arrives in Georgia, the activity around our hummingbird feeders dramatically increases. If you look closely at the birds visiting your feeders at this time of year, it may appear that three different species of hummingbirds are dining on your sugar water offerings. More than likely these seemingly different birds are all ruby-throated hummingbirds. These visitors are adult males, females and juvenile males.
Although there are a number of often subtle differences between them, here are a few simple tips that will help you tell them apart.
Adult Male – The adult male rubythroat sports a gorgeous red throat (gorget). Since this gorget actually changes color depending on lighting conditions, identification of a male ruby-throated hummingbird can be confusing. In direct sunlight, the gorget can appear ruby-red and then suddenly become charcoal-black when a cloud slips in front of the sun. For this reason, a male ruby-throated hummingbird displaying a dark gorget is often mistaken for a black-chinned hummingbird.
Juvenile Male – During its first summer, the juvenile male rubythroat has a clear, pale throat marked with lines of dark dots.
As the summer progresses, a few red gorget feathers will appear. I have seen anywhere from one to 18 or more of feathers adorning the throats of young birds before they disappear from my backyard by late summer.
Females – Both adult and juvenile female ruby-throated hummingbirds have light-colored throats. As such, it is next to impossible to tell a juvenile from an adult unless you have it in your hand and can carefully examine and measure the bird.