Rufous HummingbirdSelasphorus rufus

adult male
Laure W. Neish/VIREO
adult female
Dr. Joseph Turner/VIREO
juvenile
Rolf Nussbaumer/VIREO
adult female
Laure W. Neish/VIREO
adult male
Glenn Bartley/VIREO

Family

Description

Although it is one of the smaller members in a family of midgets, this species is notably pugnacious. The male Rufous, glowing like new copper penny, often defends a patch of flowers in a mountain meadow, vigorously chasing away all intruders (including larger birds). The Rufous also nests farther north than any other hummingbird: up to south-central Alaska. Of the various typically western hummingbirds, this is the one that wanders most often to eastern North America, with many now found east of the Mississippi every fall and winter.

Habitat

Forest edges, streamsides, mountain meadows. Breeding habitat includes forest edges and clearings, and brushy second growth within the region of northern coast and mountains. Winters mostly in pine-oak woods in Mexico. Migrants occur at all elevations but more commonly in lowlands during spring, in mountain meadows during late summer and fall.

Feeding Diet

Mostly nectar and insects. Takes nectar from flowers, and will feed on tiny insects as well. Often visits red tubular flowers such as penstemons, red columbines, paintbrush, scarlet sage, gilia, and many others. Will also feed on sugar-water mixtures in hummingbird feeders.

Feeding Behavior

At flowers, usually feeds while hovering, extending its bill and long tongue deep into the center of the flower. At feeders, may either hover or perch. To catch small insects, may fly out and capture them in midair, or hover to pluck them from foliage. Also sometimes will take spiders or trapped insects from spider webs.

Nesting

Male's courtship display flight traces a steep U or vertical oval, climbing high and then diving steeply, with whining and popping sounds at bottom of dive. Also buzzes back and forth in front of perched female. Male may mate with several females. Nest site is usually well concealed in lower part of coniferous trees, deciduous shrubs, vines. Located 3-30 feet above the ground, usually lower than 15 feet, although nests may be higher later in the season. Old nests may be refurbished and reused. Nest (built by female) is a compact cup of grasses, moss, plant down, spider webs, and other soft materials, the outside camouflaged with lichens and moss. Eggs: 2, rarely 1-3. White. Incubation is by female only, 15-17 days. Young: Female feeds the young, sticking her bill deep into their mouths and regurgitating tiny insects, perhaps mixed with nectar. Age of young at first flight about 21 days.

Eggs

2, rarely 1-3. White. Incubation is by female only, 15-17 days. Young: Female feeds the young, sticking her bill deep into their mouths and regurgitating tiny insects, perhaps mixed with nectar. Age of young at first flight about 21 days.

Young

Female feeds the young, sticking her bill deep into their mouths and regurgitating tiny insects, perhaps mixed with nectar. Age of young at first flight about 21 days.

Conservation

Still widespread and very common, but surveys show continuing declines in numbers during recent decades. Because it relies on finding the right conditions in so many different habitats at just the right seasons during the year, it could be especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Range

Moves northwest in early spring mostly through Pacific lowlands, and moves southeast beginning in late June, mostly through the Rocky Mountain region. Adult males migrate slightly earlier than females or young. Strays occur widely in the east, and many now winter regularly in the Gulf Coast states.

Listen

chips & trills #2
chips & trills #1

Similar Species

Broad-tailed Hummingbird

The metallic wing-trill of the male Broad-tailed Hummingbird is a characteristic sound of summer in the mountain west. This sound is often heard as a flying bird zings past unseen. The birds are seen easily enough, however, at masses of flowers in the high meadows, where they hover and dart around the blossoms, often fighting and chasing each other away from choice patches.

adult male

Allen's Hummingbird

A close relative of the Rufous Hummingbird, Allen's has a more limited range, nesting mostly in California. This is one of the two common nesting hummingbirds in northern California gardens (Anna's is the other). Females and immatures of Allen's Hummingbird are almost impossible to separate from Rufous females without close examination, so the status of the species in migration is still being worked out by dedicated hummingbird banders.

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Calliope Hummingbird

This is the smallest bird in North America, measuring about 3 inches long and weighing about one-tenth of an ounce. Despite its tiny size, it is able to survive cold summer nights at high elevations in the northern Rockies, and some migrate every year from Canada all the way to southern Mexico. In migration it may be overlooked, often feeding at low flowers and avoiding the aggression of larger hummingbirds.

adult male

Black-chinned Hummingbird

Over much of the west, this species is widespread in many habitats at low elevations, often coming into suburban gardens and nesting in back yards within its range. Several other western hummingbirds may stay through the winter, at least in small numbers, but the Black-chin is almost entirely absent from the west in winter.

adult male

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Hundreds of kinds of hummingbirds nest in the American tropics, and more than a dozen in the western U.S., but east of the Great Plains there is only the Ruby-throat. There it is fairly common in summer in open woods and gardens. Hovering in front of a flower to sip nectar, it beats its wings more than 50 times per second. Impressive migrants despite their small size, some Ruby-throats may travel from Canada to Costa Rica.

adult male

Anna's Hummingbird

This hardy little bird is a permanent resident along our Pacific Coast, staying through the winter in many areas where no other hummingbirds are present. More vocal than most hummingbirds, males have a buzzy song, often given while perched. In recent decades the species has expanded its range, probably helped along by flowers and feeders in suburban gardens; it now nests north to British Columbia and east to Arizona.

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