Archilochus colubris

Status:  Fairly common regular spring migrant east, uncommon central, rare casual west. Uncommon regular breeder east, rare casual central. Common regular fall migrant east, uncommon east central, rare west central and west.

Documentation:  Specimen: UNSM ZM10638, 25 May 1913 Lancaster Co.

Taxonomy:  No subspecies are recognized.

A male hummingbird present 6 May-late Aug 2014 in the Juanita Whittecar yard a few miles southeast of Chadron in Dawes Co was photographed 8 May by a motion-triggered camera; the photographs were examined by Sheri Williamson, Southeast Arizona Bird Observatory, and identified as a hybrid between Broad-tailed X Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (Silcock et al, In Press). This is the first documented record of an inter-generic hybrid involving Ruby-throated; since then, an adult male photographed in southern British Columbia in June 2014 was identified as a probable hybrid between Ruby-throated and Calliope (Selasphorus calliope) (Silcock et al, In Press).

Changes Since 2000:  This species has occurred in increasing numbers westward, with multiple reports from the Panhandle, especially in fall.  Some of this increase may be due to an increase of feeders placed around residences, which would naturally increase detection of the species, rather than actual increased occurrence. There are breeding records west to Keith Co, but not yet in the Panhandle itself.

SpringApr 6, 8, 9 <<<>>> Jun 10, 11, 12

Migration occurs mostly in May, although extreme dates are in mid-Apr and early Jun. One in Buffalo Co 14 Jun 2019 was probably a tardy migrant.

The westernmost records are from the Panhandle, most notably, a hybrid male (see Taxonomy, above) was photographed in Dawes Co 6 May 2014, joined by a female Ruby-throated 22 May, copulation was observed, both were present through 7 Jul and the male until 10 Aug (Juanita Whittecar, One was at Wind Springs Ranch, Sioux Co 18 May 2009, an adult male was studied carefully in a yard near Mitchell, Scotts Bluff Co 29 May 2012, and a female was photographed in a Dawes Co yard 29 May 2014 (Juanita Whittecar, pers. comm.). Westerly reports are of an adult male netted at Cedar Point Biological Station 23 May 1996 (Brown et al 1996) and another adult male seen there 3 Jun 2001. There are several records from Lincoln Co; a pair remained in a Brady yard 9 May-13 Jun 2004, a female was there 19 May 2006, and a single 5 May 2010; nesting has not been confirmed at that location. Singles were in separate Lincoln Co yards 10 and 11 May 2011 and at least one male was photographed in the area 15 and 20 May 2013. Also westerly were one at Valentine City Park, Cherry Co 17 May 2015, two at Smith Falls SP, Cherry Co 9 Jun 2019, one in Brown Co 1 Jun 2019, and two at Burwell, Garfield Co May through at least mid-Jun 2012.

  • High counts: 7 at Fontenelle Forest, Sarpy Co 21 May 2020.

SummerRuby-throated Hummingbirds breed mostly in the Missouri River and lower Platte River Valleys, with lower densities occurring elsewhere in far eastern Nebraska. See under Spring (above) for a summer record in Dawes Co in 2014.

In the southeast, westernmost reports are of singles at different locations in Jefferson Co 19 Jun 2010 and 4 Jul 2013, one in Thayer Co 11 Jun 2014, nesting along Plum Creek near Seward, Saline Co, and a nest in a Saunders Co yard 8 Jul 2012. It is only a “casual summer visitor” in the Rainwater Basin (Jorgensen 2012); one was in Fillmore Co 28 Jun 2019.

In the Republican River Valley, the only reported nest was in Hitchcock Co in 1975. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds summered at a residence in Alma, Harlan Co 1990 and for a few years thereafter, and, while young birds were seen, no nest was found; the last report there was of a male Jun-Jul 2000. There are no other summer records for the Republican River Valley.

In the Platte River Valleys, reports are recent, west to Scotts Bluff Co; a female was in a yard near Mitchell 10-14 Jun 2012, joined by a male 31 May but not later, an adult female was there “all summer” 2013, joined by a male 16 Jun, and an adult male was at Wildcat Hills Nature Center 14 Jun 2018. There are several reports in Keith Co, including a reported nest in Ogallala in 2003 (William Huntley, personal communication); additional reports from Ogallala are of three birds at different feeders 2 Jun-2 Jul 2008, and two at a feeder 2-29 Jun 2012. A male and female visited a feeder at a residence on the north side of Lake McConaughy, Keith Co 6-20 Jun 2001 and for a few days after that, but no nest could be found (William Huntley, personal communication). There are several reports in Lincoln Co, including a pair at Brady all summer in 2008 and a pair photographed in a rural Lincoln Co yard all summer 2013.

This species does not appear to nest regularly in the Niobrara River Valley west of the confluence with the Missouri River (Johnsgard 1979, Brogie and Mossman 1983). The only reports further west are of a pair with a nest at the Valentine Fish Hatchery, Cherry Co in late May- early Jun 2002, two pairs found 17 miles northeast of Bassett, Rock Co 15 Jun 2000, and older summer reports for Brown Co 1964 and 1970.

The species was reported to have nested for at least a few years prior to and including 1956 at Kearney (Ludden 1956), and Tout (1947) listed it as a “summer resident,” probably breeding, in Lincoln Co. The only indication of summer occurrence in the western Loup drainage is from NNF Bessey, Thomas Co, where it was a “rare summer visitor” (Bray 1994).

  • Breeding Phenology:
    Nest-building: 12 May-4 Jun
    Eggs: 21 May-30 Jul
    Nestlings: 30 Jul
  • Fledglings: 6 Jul

Fall:  Jul 16, 18, 19 <<<>>> Oct 17, 17, 18

Migration takes place mainly from early Aug through Sep, although there a later report 23 Oct 1909 Webster Co (Ludlow 1935). An unidentified hummingbird was at a Bassett, Rock Co feeder 20 Oct 2008.

Migrants occur somewhat further west than in spring, and probably occur every year in small numbers in the Panhandle, where there are about 25 records 22 Jul-18 Oct. A Scotts Bluff Co observer stated, “we have a couple every year”, and there is a specimen 3 Sep 1912 Thomas Co (UNSM ZM10637).

  • High counts:  36 in a Lincoln, Lancaster Co yard 11 Sep 2015, 31 there 6 Sep 2016, and 25 at Indian Cave SP, Nemaha and Richardson Cos 4 Sep 2010.

See Comments.

Comments:   Determining how many hummingbirds visit a given yard in a season is difficult to assess. Careful studies indicate far larger numbers than generally realized. Exhaustive recording and subsequent analysis by four video and one still cameras operating continuously in the Ron and Susan Whitney yard in Lincoln, Lancaster Co provide some insights. For the years 2007-2014 inclusive, the daily tally in fall varied from 13 to 112, the latter in 2011, but in 2015 an amazing 266 individuals were counted; peak day was 11 Sep, when 36 were counted. A feeder operator in Buford, Wyoming reported similarly large numbers (WYOBIRDS@HOME.EASE.LSOFT.COM): On 22 Jul 2016, he had “11 feeders up, with seating ranging from 3 to 8 on each. Most days I have about 80% occupancy, and all the feeders have to be refilled daily. A University of Wyoming team captured “oodles” of birds in a few hours with no recaptures, which the team indicated meant “you have a lot of hummingbirds”.


SP: State Park
UNSM: University of Nebraska State Museum


Photograph (top) of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird at Fontenelle Forest, Sarpy Co, 24 May 2009 by Phil Swanson.

Literature Cited

Bray, T.E. 1994. Habitat utilization by birds in a man-made forest in the Nebraska Sandhills. Master’s thesis, University of Nebraska-Omaha, Omaha, Nebraska, USA.

Brogie, M.A., and M.J. Mossman. 1983. Spring and summer birds of the Niobrara Valley Preserve, Nebraska: An annotated checklist. NBR 51: 44-51.

Brown, C.R., M.B. Brown, P.A. Johnsgard, J. Kren, and W.C. Scharf. 1996. Birds of the Cedar Point Biological Station area, Keith and Garden Counties, Nebraska: Seasonal occurrence and breeding data. Transactions of the Nebraska Academy of Sciences 23: 91-108.

Johnsgard, P.A. 1979. Birds of the Great Plains: breeding species and their distribution.  University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

Jorgensen, J.G. 2012.  Birds of the Rainwater Basin, Nebraska.  Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

Ludden, C.E. 1956. Birds through the years. NBR 24: 34-37.

Ludlow, C.S. 1935. A quarter-century of bird migration records at Red Cloud, Nebraska. NBR 3: 3-25.

Silcock, W.R., Whittecar, J., and S.L. Williamson. Apparent hybrid between Broad-tailed (Selasphorus platycercus) and Ruby-throated (Archilochus colubris) Hummingbirds in Dawes County, Nebraska. In  Press.

Tout, W. 1947. Lincoln County birds. Published by the author, North Platte, Nebraska, USA.

Recommended Citation

Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen.  2020

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris), Version 1.0. In Birds of Nebraska — Online.

Birds of Nebraska – Online