The Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) is relatively small even for a hummingbird, but can be quite aggressive in defending a patch of flowers at which it feeds. Like many hummingbirds, Rufous Hummingbirds often preferentially visit red tubular flowers. This species breeds farther north than any other hummingbird, all the way up to south-central Alaska and southern Yukon. Of all the western hummingbirds, the Rufous Hummingbird shows up most often in eastern North America. Rufous Hummingbirds breed around forest edges, streamsides, and mountain meadows and winter mainly in pine-oak woods in Mexico (although some winter along the Gulf Coast in the southeastern United States and casually northward throughout much of the eastern United States). This species is closely related to Allen's Hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin), which breeds mainly in coastal California. Females and immatures of these two species are nearly impossible to distinguish in the field, but adult males can usually be distinguished by back color (typically solid green in Allen's and mostly rufous in Rufous).
Although the male Rufous Hummingbird's courtship display has been described as tracing a steep U or vertical oval, climbing high and then diving steeply, with whining and popping sounds at the bottom of the dive, Hurly et al. (2001) report that this is not accurate for many populations and likely is true for none. In their observations, males made J-shaped dive displays that were concave upward during both the climb and the dive. Males produce a high-pitched whine during dives. Toward the bottom of the arc, they produce a distinctive pulsing sound (chu-chu-chu-chu), and then end with a buzzing or “rattle” sound during the waggle. The male also performs a shuttle-flight display a few centimeters above an intruder, usually a female perched in low vegetation, hovering in a horizontal orientation and throwing himself from side to side with his head facing the female and his tail describing an arc on the order of 130°, and approximately 40 to 50 cm in length, in the horizontal plane. A characteristic throbbing buzz can be heard as the male moves from side to side. A single male may mate with several females.(Hurly et al. 2001)
The nest of a Rufous Hummingbird is typically well concealed in the lower part of a coniferous tree, deciduous shrub, or vine. It is generally less than 5 m above the ground, although it may be as high as 10 m. Built by the female alone, it is a compact cup of soft materials held together with pieces of spider web and lined with plant down, The outside is camouflaged with pieces of lichen. Old nests may be repaired and re-used. The clutch of two (sometimes one, possibly rarely three or even four) white eggs is incubated by the female alone for 15 to 17 days. The female is also solely responsible for feeding the young after hatching. Age at first flight is around 21 days.
This species is widespread and abundant, although there is some evidence of recent declines.
(Kaufman 1996; AOU 1998)
- American Ornithologists' Union. 1998. Check-list of North American Birds, 7th edition. American Ornithologists' Union, Washington, D.C.
- Hurly, T.A., R.D. Scott, and S.D. Healy. 2001. The function of displays of male Rufous Hummingbirds. The Condor 103: 647-651.
- Kaufman, K. 1996. Lives of North American Birds. Houghton Mifflin, Boston.
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