Fascinating Facts About Allen’s Hummingbirds

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Identify male, female and juvenile Allen's hummingbirds. Learn about their call, the range where you can spot this species, and their yearly migration.

male allen's hummingbirdCourtesy Leslie Scopes
Male Allen’s hummingbird in California

Why Are These Birds Named Allen’s Hummingbirds?

French naturalist René Primevère Lesson studied and named numerous hummingbird species. He described the Allen’s hummingbird as Ornismya sasin in 1829. Some 50 years later, ornithologist Henry Henshaw studied specimens collected by Californian Charles Allen. At the time, the lookalike rufous hummingbird was well known to science. Although an amateur, Allen was a keen observer. The hummingbird skins he originally sent to ornithologist William Brewster in Massachusetts included his notes about the differences in the tail feathers between the green-backed specimens and the rufous-backed specimens. Allen suggested the two might be different species, and Henshaw agreed with him. Discover 15 types of hummingbirds found in the United States.

female allen's hummingbirdCourtesy Lisa Swanson
Female Allen’s hummingbird

How to Identify Male and Female Allen’s Hummingbirds

Both sexes measure 3.25 to 3.5 inches. The male has warm rusty-orange flanks, breast band, face, neck, and tail, as well as a green back and crown. They often have a rusty-orange rump, and sometimes show rusty-orange at the nape. A brilliant metallic-orange gorget can appear bright orangish scarlet to deep coppery-green. Look for a clean white breast band or patch below the gorget. The female is green above, white below, with light rufous-orange flanks and rump. The throat is variably speckled, sometimes forming a small partial orangish gorget. Fanned orange tail feathers show a black subterminal band and broad white tips on the three outer feathers. A narrow, easily overlooked orangish eyebrow stripe reliably separates a female Allen’s from the paler female broad-tailed hummingbird.

Learn how to identify Anna’s hummingbirds and ruby-throated hummingbirds.

juvenile Allen's hummingbirdCourtesy Jorge Banuelos
Immature male Allen’s hummingbird perching on a bird of paradise flower

How to Identify a Juvenile Allen’s Hummingbird

Young Allen’s appear similar to females but are duller overall, with highly varying degrees of speckling on the throat, and often scaled green on the back. Check out adorable pictures of baby hummingbirds.

Allen's hummingbird behaviorCourtesy Lisa Swanson
Male Allen’s hummingbirds are quite territorial over their feeders

Allen’s Hummingbird Call and Behavior

The male Allen’s hummingbird engages in a distinctive courtship display flight. The display begins with a series of pendulum flights in which he swings rapidly back and forth in a shallow arc, covering about 25 feet horizontally in each swing, uttering a buzzing note and ending each arc with a flare of the tail and a high-pitched rattle. These pendulum flights, five to 15 in a row, occur 6 to 8 feet or so above the female. Often the final arc transitions into a high-angled climb and then a high-speed plunge, culminating above the female. Allen’s hummers will pugnaciously defend territories, feeders, and flowers. In addition to the male’s courtship vocalizations, Allen’s hummers make a variety of calls similar to those of the rufous, including chip notes and aggressive rattling sounds used in confrontational situations.

Discover more jaw-dropping facts about hummingbirds.

Allen’s Hummingbird Habitat and Range

The Allen’s hummingbird breeds in summers along the Pacific coast from southern Oregon to San Diego County, California. They are most common in coastal scrub and coastal residential areas, from urban to rural. This species is especially widespread from southern California to the Bay Area, becoming somewhat less common northward and as the distance from the coast increases. Sightings are uncommon to rare in inland California. Learn how to create an ideal hummingbird habitat.

Do Allen’s Hummingbirds Migrate?

Allen’s make substantial twice-yearly journeys to and from their breeding grounds. The first spring migrants arrive in the northern edge of their range in March, with the bulk arriving from mid-April through mid-May. Fall migration begins in midsummer. By early August, most birds in southwestern Oregon and northwestern California have departed. Hummingbirds that live in northern latitudes routinely leave for the winter, migrating southward, mostly to Mexico. However, Allen’s are year-round residents in southernmost coastal California.

To learn more, read The Hummingbird Handbook: Everything You Need to Know About These Fascinating Birds, published by Timber Press.

John Shewey
Lifelong birding enthusiast John Shewey is a veteran writer, editor, and professional outdoor photographer, with credits in Birdwatching, Portland Monthly, Northwest Travel & Life, and dozens of other magazines, and co-author of Birds of the Pacific Northwest, a Timber Press Field Guide, and The Hummingbird Handbook. John has photographed birds from the mountains of Alaska to the jungles of Central America to the islands of the Caribbean, and his website chronicles many of these travels in rich photographic detail.