Photo: Verdon Tomajko/Audubon Photography Awards

Rufous Hummingbird

Selasphorus rufus

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.
Conservation status 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.
Family Hummingbirds
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.
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.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male
  • adult female
  • juvenile
  • adult female
  • adult male
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.


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.

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.


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.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Migration

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.

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Migration

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.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
An abrupt, high-pitched zeee; various thin squealing notes.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.