This smaller hummingbird presents an outsize personality at feeders, often chasing away larger hummingbirds with a combination of feistiness and impressive flight skill. At approximately 3.5”, the rufous hummingbird may possess the most closely perfect ratio of weight to size, and outmaneuvers other hummingbirds for access to nectar and flowers.
Rufous hummingbirds have a slender, nearly straight bill, a tail that tapers to a point when at rest, and fairly short wings that don't meet the end of the tail when perched. The males’ bright plumage is almost entirely orange, with some green on the back, and their throat patches will appear from red, to orange, to yellow to lime green, depending on the light. Females show orange on their sides and tail, which aids in distinguishing them from Anna’s and Black-chinned.
Plumage patterns on the males and females are also a key to behavior. When a rufous has first identified a food source, it will defend it aggressively. Even immediately after feeding, hummingbirds of either sex will perch nearby and intercept would-be competitors with angry buzzing. A feeding female, when disturbed, will display a notable 'back-off' signal by fanning and waving her tail. Males face off against one another directly, signaling with their brilliant throat patches or gorgets.
Rufous hummingbirds migrate futher north than any other species (into southeastern Alaska), and along with three other species - black-chinned, calliope, and ruby-throated - may also nest in Canada. They prefer wooded or scrubby habitat both for nesting and in winter (in Mexico), but during migratory periods may be found in a wide variety of habitats. Perhaps even more so than others, rufous hummingbirds seem to be attracted to red flowers. In addition to nectar and pollen sources, rufous hummingbirds eat a fair share of insects; gracefully plucking aphids from foliage, and catching flying insects or dangling spiders mid-air.
These hummingbirds are readily attracted to backyard feeders when nectar is offered during migration. Best practice is to have multiple feeders placed out of sight from one another when they are in town, in order to give your other hummingbirds a chance.
Although still relatively common and widespread, rufous hummingbirds are yet another species experiencing declines in numbers, and are projected to be hard hit by increasing average temperatures and loss of habitat. Click here to learn how you can help further