Hummingbirds are the only species of bird that can fly backward, and their closest relative are swifts!
Tiny bursts of color and speed coupled with magnificent hovering skills make the hummingbird one of my favorite bird species with good reason.
Hummingbirds can travel over 4000 miles in a year, fly at 98 km/h, have a wingbeat of an average of 58 beats per second, and lay an egg the size of a jelly bean!
Many Hummingbirds are migratory and spend the winter in Mexico or further south and the summer in the United States and Canada for breeding.
There are 5 species of hummingbirds in Iowa that have been spotted. Of these, 1 species is recognized on state checklists as regularly occurring, 3 additional species are considered rare or accidental, and an additional one regarded as near-threatened.
This guide will help you identify the hummingbird species spotted in Iowa according to avibase. The hummingbirds in this list are ordered how frequently they are spotted in the state, from most frequent to least frequent, according to bird watchers’ checklists for the state submitted to ebird.
In Iowa, only Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are recognized as regularly occurring. Although the other species are considered accidental here there are still chances to spot them.
5 Species of Hummingbirds in Iowa
1. Ruby-throated Hummingbird
In summer, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are the most frequently spotted hummingbirds in Iowa and appear in 15% of checklists submitted by bird watchers for the state.
They spend the breeding season in the state and they start arriving from late April to October, and then they fly south for the winter.
The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are bright green on the back and crown, with a gray-white underside and the males have an iridescent red throat.
Female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are green on the back and white underneath with brownish crowns and sides.
- Length: 2.8-3.5 in (7-9 cm)
- Weight: 0.1-0.2 oz (2-6 g)
- Wingspan: 3.1-4.3 in (8-11 cm)
The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the only breeding hummingbird in eastern North America. They then migrate further south to Central America for winter. Some migrate over the Gulf of Mexico, or some migrate through Texas around the coast.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds start arriving in the United States in February and may not arrive in northern states and Canada until May for breeding. In spring, males usually arrive first up to one or two weeks before the females.
In the fall, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds migrate south in August and September and gather in September along the Gulf Coast of Texas before making the final push south for winter.
These tiny birds zip from one nectar source to the next or catch insects in midair or from spider webs. They occasionally stop on a small twig, but their legs are so short they cannot walk, only shuffle along a perch.
In summer, flowering gardens or woodland edges are the best places to find them. They are also common in towns, especially at nectar feeders.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird calls and wingbeat:
Male Ruby-throated Hummingbirds can be aggressive in their defense of flowers and feeders. Males do not stick around long after mating and may migrate by early August.
Ruby-throated females build nests on thin branches and make them out of thistle or dandelion down held together with spider silk. They lay 1-3 tiny eggs measuring only 0.6 in (1.3 cm)
2. Rufous Hummingbird
Rufous Hummingbirds are considered near-threatened species, but they were spotted in Iowa in 2021. They have been spotted in Faulkes Heritage Woods and Dubuque.
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.
- 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. In the summer, they breed in northwest Alaska and northwest Canada and migrate down to Mexico and the Gulf Coast for winter.
Migration of Rufous Hummingbirds is north along the Pacific Coast in spring and the Rocky Mountains in late summer and fall. Migration in the spring of Rufous Hummingbirds starts in February, and they usually reach Alaska by mid-April. Migration in the fall is in July and August and ends by October.
A study has shown that Rufous Hummingbirds start their migration earlier and travel north more inland than before.
Rufous Hummingbird numbers have declined by around 60% since the 1970s
Rufous Hummingbirds feed primarily on nectar from colorful tubular flowers and insects such as gnats, midges, and flies. They build a nest high up in trees using soft down from plants and spider webs to hold it together. They lay 2-3 tiny white eggs about 0.5 in (1.3 cm) long. Their habitat is mountain meadows and coniferous forests.
They are very aggressive and chase off any other hummingbirds that may appear, even larger hummingbirds or resident ones during migration. They won’t hang around long during migration but will still chase off most other hummingbirds given a chance.
3. Broad-billed Hummingbird
Although considered an accidental species in Iowa, Broad-billed Hummingbirds were spotted in Humboldt in 2021.
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 between March and September, 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 up, near streams.
4. Mexican Violetear
Mexican Violetears are accidental species in Iowa, and they are extremely rare to find in the state. In fact, they have last been spotted in Woodbury back in 2006.
Mexican Violetears are medium-sized hummingbirds that are metallic green with violet patches on the sides of their heads and breasts.
- Length: 3.8 – 4.7 in (9.7 – 12 cm)
- Weight: 0.17 – 0.2 oz (4.8 – 5.6 g)
Mexican Violetears breed in forests in Mexico, Central America, and down to Nicaragua, but they sometimes can be found as far south as the mountains of Bolivia and Venezuela.
Also, some non-breeding Mexican Violetears may fly north into the United States to central and southern Texas.
5. Anna’s Hummingbird
Anna’s Hummingbirds are accidental species in Iowa, and they were last spotted in 2015 in Polk.
Anna’s Hummingbirds are tiny birds that are primarily 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)
Anna’s Hummingbirds are the most common hummingbird along the Pacific Coast and they do not migrate, which is unusual for hummingbirds.
Their range is from British Columbia to Baja California in both summer and winter. However, some birds may move from the far north of their range for winter.
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.
The diet of Anna’s Hummingbirds includes nectar, tree sap, and small insects and spiders. Nectar sources are Eucalyptus, Nicotiana, Agave, Castilleja, Diplaucus, Ribes, Silena, Arctostaphylos, and nectar feeders.
Anna’s Hummingbird call sounds:
Anna’s Hummingbirds’ nests are high up in trees at around 6 – 20 ft, and they often have 2-3 broods a year, and female hummingbirds do all of the work!
During courtship, they make dramatic dive displays 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.
How Frequently Hummingbirds are Spotted in Iowa in Summer and Winter
Checklists for the state are a great resource to find out which birds are commonly spotted. These lists show which hummingbirds are most commonly recorded on checklists for Iowa on ebird in summer and winter.
Hummingbirds in Iowa in Summer:
Ruby-throated Hummingbird 15.5%
Rufous Hummingbird <0.1%
Broad-billed Hummingbird <0.1%
Hummingbirds in Iowa in Winter:
Rufous Hummingbird <0.1%
Ruby-throated Hummingbird <0.1%
How to Attract the Hummingbirds of Iowa to Your Backyard
If you would like to attract more hummingbirds to your yard, here are some tips:
- Provide more hummingbird feeders to fill with homemade nectar and spread them around your yard to create more territories.
- Ensure you clean and change the hummingbird nectar regularly to stop diseases spreading. You can either buy nectar or make your own, but don’t use any with red dye.
- Provide a water feature such as a birdbath fountain or stream. Ensure that the water is clean and not stagnant
- Grow native plants that will provide food such as salvias, fuschias, trumpet creeper, lupin, columbine, bee balms, and foxgloves
- Don’t use pesticides and herbicides as these may be toxic to birds.
- Provide small perches of thin branches, bare of leaves, for hummingbirds to rest.