- Minnesota Breeding Bird Distribution
- Breeding Habitat
- Population Abundance
- Literature Cited
A regular breeding resident and migrant; one winter record in Minnesota in 1994. The hummingbird was a common species during the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas (MNBBA).
Although many hummingbird species are found in the western United States, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird alone occupies the eastern United States and southern Canada, its range closely mirroring the distribution of the eastern deciduous forest. The species is sparsely distributed throughout its breeding range, with some of its highest densities found in Tennessee, southern Missouri, and northern Arkansas (Figure 1).
Assigned a Continental Concern Score of 8/20 by Partners in Flight.
A medium- to long-distance migrant; most birds winter in Central America.
Nectar, tree sap, and insects acquired by hovering flight; hawking; and foliage gleaning.
Open-cup nest usually placed in deciduous trees and shrubs; often near or directly above water.
“This gem among Minnesota birds, the tiniest of them all,” Roberts (1932) wrote, “is a common, at times abundant, summer resident in all parts of the state It is present alike in the groves of the prairie region and the open glades and the burned-over areas of the heavy forests.” Confirmed nesting records (nests with eggs or young) were available from 6 counties: Fillmore, Hennepin, Kittson, Ramsey, Scott, and Sherburne. Reports of nests were available from Cass and Goodhue Counties and Itasca State Park. Roberts’s account went on to marvel about the rapid beat of the hummingbird’s wings, the “fantastic performance” of the male’s courtship flight, and the architectural accomplishments of the female in constructing a “marvelous and exquisite little nest.”
Forty years later, Green and Janssen (1975) confirmed the Ruby-throated Hummingbird’s status as a statewide resident, reporting that the species could be found breeding in all regions of the state. Janssen (1987) would later add that it was most abundant in northern Minnesota, gradually becoming less common as one moved further south, and becoming “rare to absent” in the south-central and southwestern counties. Nesting was confirmed in 18 counties since 1970, largely stretching from the southeast corner of the state northwest to Koochiching and Roseau Counties and in southwestern Minnesota in Brown and Cottonwood Counties. Hertzel and Janssen (1998) added 7 more counties to the list of confirmed nesting.
Field biologists working with the Minnesota Biological Survey (MBS) have reported a total of 276 Ruby-throated Hummingbird breeding season locations. The largest number of reports was in the Laurentian Mixed Forest and Eastern Broadleaf Forest Provinces. Absent from the Red River Valley Section, there were scattered reports in the Tallgrass Aspen Parklands Province, along the Minnesota River valley, and in southwestern Minnesota (Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 2016).
During the MNBBA, observers reported 1,575 Ruby-throated Hummingbird records in 24.2% (1,146/4,744) of the surveyed atlas blocks and in 32.9% (769/2,337) of the priority blocks. Breeding was confirmed in 114 blocks (Figures 2 and 3; Table 1). The birds were found in 81 of Minnesota’s 87 counties and were documented breeding in 38 counties. Once again, the hummingbird was most abundant in the Laurentian Mixed Forest and Eastern Broadleaf Forest Provinces. There were a far greater number of records in the Tallgrass Aspen Parklands and in the Prairie Parkland Provinces, particularly in west-central Minnesota, than reported by the MBS. Common throughout the eastern half of Minnesota, its distribution became sparse heading westward. Although the extensive peatlands of north-central Minnesota and the agricultural landscape of western Minnesota provide less suitable habitat, small scattered woodlands and residential areas provide a haven for the species, especially when backyard feeding stations are provided.
MNBBA data were used to develop a model that predicts the probability of encountering hummingbirds throughout the state (Figure 4). Although it is a reasonable depiction of where the atlas reported many of its observations, it emphasizes the species’ relatively low breeding density throughout its summer range.
Almost one hundred years ago, Roberts (1932) specifically noted the Hummingbird’s presence in the prairie regions of the state; fifty years later Janssen (1987) commented on its rarity and near absence in the southwest and south-central regions. Today, it again appears to be a regular but quite uncommon species in the region. The small‑scale farming operations of the early twentieth century may have provided limited but suitable habitat for the species that disappeared as the intensity of agricultural practices increased and residential development expanded. The reappearance of the species in these regions may reflect more interest on the part of landowners to provide hummingbird feeding stations.
Throughout its breeding range, local populations likely have benefitted from landscape plantings that attract hummingbirds and the placement and maintenance of hummingbird feeders. Apart from small-scale changes in the species’ abundance and distribution, however, there is little evidence of any large-scale distributional change (Weidensaul et al. 2013). Atlas work conducted in neighboring states and provinces, such as Ontario (Cadman et al. 2007), Iowa (Iowa Ornithologists’ Union 2017), and Wisconsin (Cutright et al. 2006) also have not detected any distributional changes.
*Note that the definition of confirmed nesting of a species is different for Breeding Bird Atlas projects, including the definition used by the Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas, compared with a more restrictive definition used by the Minnesota Ornithologists’ Union. For details see the Data Methods Section.