Hummingbirds California: Everything You Need to Know

black chinned hummingbird

These tiny jeweled birds never fail to impress with a dash of speed and magnificent hovering skills and California is a great place if Hummingbirds is what you want to see. Many Hummingbirds are migratory and spend winter in Mexico or further south before migrating into the United States for breeding and many pass through California.

There are 361 species of Hummingbird according to the International Community of Ornithologists (ICO) and of these 8 can be found in California.

The Anna’s hummingbird is in California all year and is the only non-migratory hummingbird in California.

Some of the best locations to see these hummingbirds in California are Cabrillo National Monument in April to see Calliope Hummingbirds and the University of California Arboretum and Botanic Garden to see Anna’s and Allen’s Hummingbirds on the paved trail.

The most common hummingbirds of California are Anna’s Hummingbirds.

The smallest Hummingbird in California is the Calliope Hummingbird.

Species of hummingbirds are classed as a resident, seasonal, or rare/accidental in each state and according to avibase these are the types of hummingbird in California in each group and have sightings recorded for the state on ebird.org:

Resident Species of Hummingbirds in California:

Anna’s Hummingbirds

Seasonal Species of Hummingbirds in California:

Allen’s Hummingbirds, Black-chinned Hummingbirds, Costa’s Hummingbirds, Broad-tailed Hummingbirds, Calliope Hummingbirds, and Rufous Hummingbirds are all seasonal species of Hummingbird in California.

Rare/Accidental Species of Hummingbirds in California:

Broad-billed Hummingbird

Read on to find out everything you need to know about hummingbirds of California with pictures to help you identify them all.

8 Species of Hummingbirds in California:

  1. Anna’s Hummingbird
  2. Allen’s Hummingbird
  3. Black-chinned Hummingbird
  4. Costa’s Hummingbird
  5. Rufous Hummingbird
  6. Calliope Hummingbird
  7. Broad-billed Hummingbird
  8. Broad-tailed Hummingbird

Species of Hummingbirds California

1. Anna’s Hummingbird

annas hummingbird male
Male
annas hummingbird female
Female

Anna’s Hummingbirds are very common birds in California and are recorded in 40% of checklists for the state. Some Anna’s Hummingbirds in northern California may migrate short distances after breeding.

Anna’s Hummingbirds are tiny birds that are mostly green and gray.  The male’s head and throat are iridescent reddish-pink the female’s throat is grayish with bits of red spotting.

  • Length: 3.9 in (10 cm)
  • Weight: 0.1-0.2 oz (3-6 g)
  • Wingspan: 4.7 in (12 cm)

Unusually Anna’s Hummingbirds do not migrate and are the most common hummingbird along the Pacific Coast. They make a dramatic dive display during courtship as the males climb up to 130 feet into the air before diving back to the ground with a burst of noise from their tail feathers.

Habitats of Anna’s hummingbirds are often backyards and parks with large colorful blooms and nectar feeders but they are also found in scrub and savannah.

Anna’s Hummingbirds’ nests are high in trees around 6 – 20 ft and they often have 2-3 broods a year.

2. Allen’s Hummingbird

Allens hummingbird male

Allen’s Hummingbirds are more common in California in summer and some arrive back as early in January as far north as San Francisco. By September most Allen’s Hummingbirds have migrated south from northern California. Some remain all winter between Santa Barbara, Loa Angeles, and San Diego.

Allen’s Hummingbirds are only found in a narrow band of coastal forest and scrub they inhabit between California and Oregon. 

Male Allen’s Hummingbirds have iridescent reddish-orange throats and orange bellies, tails, and eye patches.  Both males and females have long straight bills and coppery-green backs but the females lack the bright throat coloring.

  • Length: 3.5 in (9 cm)
  • Weight: 0.1-0.1 oz (2-4 g)
  • Wingspan: 4.3 in (11 cm)

Allen’s Hummingbirds look very similar to Rufous Hummingbirds so it’s hard to tell them apart. The difference between them is the narrow outer tail feathers in Allen’s Hummingbird females and immature males and the solid green backs of the males (but to make it harder Rufous Hummingbirds can also have this!). They build nests at no fixed height near shady streams and have up to 3 broods a year.

Allen’s Hummingbirds spend winter in Mexico and migrate as early as January up to the Pacific Coast in California and Oregon. Some remain residents in central Mexico and around Los Angeles throughout winter.

3. Black-chinned Hummingbird

black chinned hummingbird
Black-chinned Hummingbird male
Black chinned hummingbird female
Black-chinned Hummingbird Female (credit: Gary Leavens)

Black-chinned Hummingbirds breed predominantly along the California coast and can be seen more frequently during the migrations in the rest of the state. Black-chinned Hummingbirds are in California between March and October.

Black-chinned Hummingbirds are dull metallic green on the back and grayish-white underneath.  The males have a black throat with a thin iridescent purple base and the females have a pale throat and white tips on the tail feathers.

  • Length: 3.5 in (9 cm)
  • Weight: 0.1-0.2 oz (2.3-4.9 g)
  • Wingspan: 4.3 in (11 cm)

Black-chinned Hummingbirds breed predominantly inland in western states and migrate to western Mexico and the Gulf Coast in the winter.

They eat nectar, small insects, and spiders and their tongues can lick 13-17 times per second when feeding on nectar.

Nests of Black-chinned Hummingbirds are made of plant down and spider silk to hold them together and they lay 2 white tiny eggs that are only 0.6 in (1.3 cm)

Black-chinned Hummingbirds can often be seen sitting at the top of dead trees on tiny bare branches and often return to a favorite perch. They can be found along canyons and rivers in the Southwest or by shady oaks on the Gulf Coast.

4. Costa’s Hummingbird

costas hummingbird

Costa’s Hummingbirds are predominantly desert hummingbirds with striking iridescent purple throat patches that flare out and a purple crown. Their backs are green and their bellies are white with green coloring on the sides. Female Costa’s Hummingbirds lack the purple color and are more white on the belly.

  • Length: 3.5 in ( 7.6 – 8.8 cm)
  • Weight: 0.1-0.1 oz (2-3 g)

Costa’s Hummingbirds are residents in Baja California and southern California and southwestern Arizona. They also migrate between the Pacific Coast of Mexico in winter and up into Arizona, the southern edges of Nevada and Utah, and further into California for breeding.

Desert scrub, chaparral, and deciduous forest provide the habitat of Costa’s Hummingbirds and they visit many different species of plants.  Nests are built quite low at three to seven feet above the ground in shrubs and they may have up to two broods in a year.

5. Rufous Hummingbird

rufous-hummingbird male
Rufous Hummingbird Male
Rufous Hummingbird female
Rufous Hummingbird female

Rufous Hummingbirds migrate as early as January but mostly pass through California between mid-February and mid-May and then back between Mid-June and October.

Rufous Hummingbirds are bright orange on the back and belly, a white patch below the throat, and an iridescent red throat in the males.  The females are greenish-brown on the back and rusty colored on the sides with a whitish belly. They are very similar looking to Allen’s Hummingbirds.

  • Length: 2.8-3.5 in (7-9 cm)
  • Weight: 0.1-0.2 oz (2-5 g)
  • Wingspan: 4.3 in (11 cm)

Rufous Hummingbirds are one of the longest migrating birds relative to their size, traveling up to 4000 miles each way. They breed in northwest Alaska and migrate down to Mexico and the Gulf Coast for winter. 

They migrate north along the Pacific Coast in spring and by the Rocky Mountains in late summer and fall.

Rufous Hummingbirds feed mostly on nectar from colorful tubular flowers and from insects such as gnats, midges, and flies. They build a nest high up in trees using soft plant down and spider webs to hold it together.  They lay 2-3 tiny white eggs that are about 0.5 in (1.3 cm) long.

They are very aggressive and chase off any other hummingbirds that may appear, even larger hummingbirds or resident ones during migration.  During migration, they won’t hang around long and will chase off most other hummingbirds even a chance. They can be found in mountain meadows and in winter they live in woods and forests.

6. Calliope Hummingbird

Calliope hummingbird male
Calliope Hummingbirds male (credit: Rocky Raybell)
Calliope hummingbird female
Calliope Hummingbird female (credit: Rocky Raybell)

Calliope Hummingbirds in California are mostly seen during migration in most of the state. They breed in northern California and in the Sierra Nevada and some around San Francisco.

The tiny ping ball-sized Calliope Hummingbird is the smallest bird in the United States but still manages to fly more than 5000 miles each year all the way from Mexico up as far as Canada and back. They also punch above their weight when it comes to defending their territory and even chase Red-tailed Hawks.

Male Calliope Hummingbirds have bright magenta throats, (known as the gorget), glossy green backs and flanks, and a dark tail. Females lack the iridescent throats and are more pinkish-white underneath rather than white in the males.

  • Length: 3.1-3.5 in (8-9 cm)
  • Weight: 0.1-0.1 oz (2.3-3.4 g)
  • Wingspan: 4.1-4.3 in (10.5-11 cm)

Spring migration is along the Pacific Coast to breeding areas in Northern California, Colorado, and up to northwestern states and Canada. They start migration relatively early to arrive from Mid-April to early May. Fall migration is south along the Rocky Mountains.

Nests are usually on evergreen trees and they may reuse them or build on top of an old nest. Fall migration is by the Rocky Mountains to wintering grounds in southwestern Mexico.

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7. Broad-billed Hummingbird

broad billed hummingbird male
Male
broad billed hummingbird female
Female

Broad-billed Hummingbirds are rare in California but some have been spotted in fall along the coast.

Broad-billed Hummingbirds are brilliantly colored, even among hummingbirds. The males are rich metallic green all over with a blue throat that extends down the breast. Females have a pale belly and both males and females have red beaks that are black-tipped and wide near their heads.

  • Length: 3.1 – 3.9 in (8-10 cm)
  • Weight: 0.1-0.1 oz (3-4 g)

Broad-billed Hummingbirds are resident all year in central Mexico and the Pacific Coast of Mexico. Some birds migrate north into mountain canyons in southern Arizona and New Mexico, for breeding and a few remain all year near the Mexican border.

Canyon streams and mountain meadows provide the ideal foraging areas for Broad-billed Hummingbirds but they will also visit backyard feeders. Nests are built quite low to the ground at about 3 feet near streams.

8. Broad-tailed Hummingbird

Broad-tailed Hummingbird male (Selasphorus platycercus)
Male
Broad tailed Hummingbird female 2
Female

Broad-tailed hummingbirds breed in California along the border with Nevada.

Broad-tailed Hummingbirds live in higher elevations and are iridescent green on the back, brownish in the wings, and white on the chest and into the belly.  Males have an iridescent rose throat, females and juveniles have green spots on their throats and cheeks.

  • Length: 3.1-3.5 in (8-9 cm)
  • Weight: 0.1-0.2 oz (2.8-4.5 g)

 Broad-tailed Hummingbirds breed in high meadows and open woodlands between 5,000 – 10,000 feet elevation in the mountainous west, between late May and August, before migrating to southern Mexico for the winter.

Due to the cold at higher elevations, the Broad-tailed Hummingbird can slow their heart rate and drop their body temperature to enter a state of torpor.

Nectar from flowers is the usual food of hummingbirds and Broad-tailed Hummingbirds drink from larkspur, red columbine, sage, scarlet gilia and they will also come to hummingbird nectar feeders.  They supplement their diet with small insects and will feed their young on insects too.

Broad-tailed Hummingbird nests are usually on evergreen or aspen branches and are made with spider webs and gossamer under overhanging branches for added insulation during cold nights.

Best Feeders to Attract Hummingbirds in California

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The more the merrier with Hummingbirds is what I think and they can be territorial so getting a few hummingbird feeders around your backyard is best.  We have picked the best hummingbird feeders for you to get hummingbirds buzzing all over your yard.

How to Attract the Hummingbirds in California to Your Backyard

If you would like to attract more hummingbirds to your yard in California here are some tips:

  1. Provide more hummingbird feeders and spread them around your yard to create more territories.
  2. Ensure you clean and change the hummingbird nectar regularly.  You can either buy nectar or make your own, but don’t use any with red dye.
  3. Provide a water feature such as a birdbath fountain or stream.  Ensure that the water is clean and not stagnant
  4.  Grow native plants that will provide food such as salvias, fuschias, trumpet creeper, lupin, columbine, bee balms, and foxgloves
  5. Don’t use pesticides and herbicides as these may be toxic to birds.
  6. Provide small perches of thin branches bare of leaves for hummingbirds to rest.

Native Califonia Plants for Hummingbirds

To attract the most hummingbirds native plants especially red tubular plants attract the most. Try to provide flowers throughout the seasons and in California winter plants such as Gooseberry, Salvia and Manzanita are great for Anna’s Hummingbirds in winter.

  • Western columbine
  • Manzanita
  • Scarlet buglar
  • Desert-willow
  • California thistle
  • Flowering maple
    Scarlet Larkspur
  • Sticky monkeyflower
  • Showy milkweed
    California fuchsia
  • Climbing penstemon
  • California honeysuckle
  • Hummingbird Monardella
  • Salvia
  • Red Yucca

How to Identify Birds in California

Here are some tips to help you identify birds whether you are out birding or backyard bird watching in California:

  1. Size – Size is the easiest thing to notice about a bird.  Birds are often measured in inches or centimeters in guide books.  It’s best to take a note of the bird in terms of small, medium, or large to be able to look for it later. A small bird is about the size of a sparrow, a medium bird is about the size of a pigeon and a large bird is the size of a goose.
  2. Shape – Take note of the silhouette of the bird and jot it down or draw the outline.  Look at tail length, bill shape, wing shape, and overall body shape.
  3. Color pattern – Take a note of the main color of the head, back, belly, and wings, and tail for the main color and then any secondary colors or patterns. Also take note of any patterns such as banding, spots, or highlights.
  4. Behavior – Are they on the ground or high up in the trees. Are they in flocks or on their own?  Can you spot what they are eating?
  5. Habitat – Woodlands, parks, shrubs, grasslands or meadows, shore or marsh.
  6. Use a bird identification app such as those created by ebird or Audubon