At a Glance
Although it is one of the smaller members in a family of very small birds, 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.
All bird guide text and rangemaps adapted from Lives of North American Birds by Kenn Kaufman© 1996, used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.
Arroyos and Canyons, Coasts and Shorelines, Desert and Arid Habitats, Forests and Woodlands, High Mountains, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets, Urban and Suburban Habitats
Alaska and The North, California, Florida, Mid Atlantic, New England, Northwest, Plains, Rocky Mountains, Southeast, Southwest, Texas, Western Canada
Flitter, Hovering, Rapid Wingbeats
Range & Identification
Migration & Range Maps
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.
3 1/2" (9 cm). Adult male bright coppery rufous above, with dark throat shining red in good light. Females and young have green back, spotted throat, orange-buff wash on sides and at base of tail.
About the size of a Sparrow
Black, Green, Orange, Red, White
Narrow, Rounded, Short
Multi-pointed, Notched, Rounded, Square-tipped
Songs and Calls
An abrupt, high-pitched zeee; various thin squealing notes.
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.
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2, rarely 1-3. White. Incubation is by female only, 15-17 days.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Rufous Hummingbird. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.
Climate Threats Facing the Rufous Hummingbird
Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.