photo by Ivan Phillipsen
Rufous Hummingbird

Rufous Hummingbird

The Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) is a tiny (3.75 in; 9.50 cm), pugnacious bird that visits the Pacific Northwest in summer. It buzzes around where flowers are abundant in forest clearings, riparian woodlands, brushy areas, and meadows. Like Anna’s Hummingbirds, Rufous Hummingbirds are commonly seen at backyard feeders.

Males are a rusty red color over most of the body. The throat is covered by iridescent copper-red feathers, while the upper breast and undertail coverts are white.

Females and juveniles look very similar to each other and are much less colorful than the males. Females are mostly greenish, with some dull orange shading on the flanks, tail base, and undertail coverts. Their throats have a few iridescent red feathers, or sometimes none at all.

Male Rufous Hummingbirds are very territorial. They aggressively defend the flowers that they feed from and will attack even much larger birds (i.e. pretty much every other bird species). A male’s territory includes just enough flowers to sustain him.

Rufous Hummingbird

Males perform dive displays while courting females. If a female enters his territory, a male will fly up high and then dive down in a J-shaped path. At the bottom of the dive, he makes a rapid, staccato chu-chu-chu sound with specialized feathers on his wings. This display is a really entertaining thing to watch!

While Anna’s Hummingbird is typically a year-round resident in our region, the Rufous Hummingbird is migratory, spending its summer in the northwest, from northern California to Alaska. It breeds farther north than any other hummingbird.

The migration of the Rufous Hummingbird is the longest of any bird in terms of the number of body lengths. Rufous Hummingbirds fly as far as 3,500 miles (5,633 km), which is equal to about 59 million body lengths. If you were to walk that many human body lengths, your journey would take you more than 2.5 times around the Earth!

Rufous Hummingbirds follow a big oval-shaped migration path. Starting in central Mexico, they fly up the Pacific coast in late winter or early spring. They breed in the northwest during early summer, then they fly down along the Rocky Mountains in late summer and autumn, feeding on flowers in subalpine meadows as they go, returning at last to Mexico.

Be on the lookout for these impressive little fireballs at your hummingbird feeder and in wild, open places. Take some time to check out their dynamic behavior.

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