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)
A mature rufous hummingbird is about 7-9 cm in length, has an 11 cm wingspan, and weighs between 2 and 5 g. Males have an iridescent red throat, a dull reddish back, and an orange tail with pointed black tips. Females have a white throat with a few red feathers, a green back and head, and an orange, green, and black tail. Rufous hummingbirds feed on flower nectar, small insects, and tree sap. Males can be identified by their aerial display during courtship in which they make a series of steep, J-shaped dives that end at the same point. Males are territorial year-round.
This bird can be found in the winter from Southern California, through Mexico, and along the northern Gulf Coast. In the summer, it breeds from southern Alaska southward to northern California, south central Idaho, and western Montana. These birds frequently visit the eastern states and have the northernmost range of any hummingbird. Selasphorus rufus is declining over most of its range.
Rufous Hummingbird, Selasphorus rufus, is found in western and coastal North America from March through August, and migrates to Mexico in the winter months of October through February (Johnsgard 1983).
Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native )
occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Breeding
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Breeding
Global Range: (200,000-2,500,000 square km (about 80,000-1,000,000 square miles)) Breeding range extends from southern Alaska, southern Yukon, British Columbia, and southwestern Alberta southward through Washington, Oregon, and western Montana to northwestern California and Idaho (Calder 1993, AOU 1998).
Winter range extends from coastal southern California (rarely), Sinaloa, Chihuahua, southern Texas, and Gulf Coast (east to western Florida) south to southern Baja California and southern mainland Mexico (e.g., Oaxaca, Veracruz (Calder 1993, AOU 1998). Individuals often occur ouside usual species range.
Coded range extent refers to breeding range.
- Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2014. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: Version 6.9. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
The adult male rufous has a white breast with greenish back and crown. The back is sometimes glossed with metallic bronze-green. The pileum (the top of the head from the bill to the nape) is bronze-green, and the gorget (collar) is bright orange-red. The chin and throat is a shiny metallic scarlet color. The bill is long, straight, thin, black or dark brown in color. The feet are a dusky color. The adult female rufous has a metallic bronze-green back, and the pileum is a little duller than the male rufous. From the chin and the throat, down to the breast of the female, is a dull white color. Rufous Hummingbird has a body length of about 7.3 to 9.1 cm (2.87 to 3.58 in), and weighs around 2.8 g to 4.0 g (0.097 to 0.141 Oz). Unlike other birds that have large sound-producing muscles extending from the windpipe to the chest bone,the rufous has two sets of small vocal muscles in the trachea (Johnsgard 1983; Toops 1992; Sayre 1999).
Range mass: 2.8 to 4 g.
Average mass: 3.37 g.
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; bilateral symmetry
Average basal metabolic rate: 0.06853 W.
Length: 10 cm
Weight: 3 grams
Habitat and Ecology
During breeding season, Rufous Hummingbirds are found in forests, on seed-tree harvest units, riparian shrub, and spruce-fir habitats. During the winter, it lives wherever flowers are present. It migrates to lowland stream bottoms, foothill brush land, seacoast and high mountain meadows (Johnsgard 1983; Paige et al. 1999).
Terrestrial Biomes: desert or dune ; savanna or grassland ; chaparral ; forest ; mountains
Comments: Breeding habitat includes coniferous forest, second growth, thickets, and brushy hillsides, with foraging extending into adjacent scrubby areas and meadows with abundant nectar flowers (AOU 1998); habitat is chiefly secondary succession communities and forest openings (Calder 1993). On national forest lands in northern Idaho and western Montana, this species was most commonly detected on clearcut and seed-tree harvest units and in post-fire habitats; also riparian shrub, cedar-hemlock, and spruce-fir habitats (Hutto 1995). It had a higher probability of detection in cut rather than uncut forests (Hutto and Young, unpublished).
This hummingbird also is associated with old-growth coniferous forest stands. In western Oregon, it nested in 16-120 year-old second-growth and older than 120 year-old mature forest (Meslow and Wight 1975). In northern Idaho cedar-hemlock, it was significantly more abundant in selectively harvested and old-growth stands than in old-growth stands recently fragmented by clearcuts (Hejl and Paige 1993). In Oregon Cascades Douglas-fir forests, it was positively associated with stand age where old-growth stands included numerous small openings, and it was found in stands with large to very large western hemlocks (Gilbert and Allwine 1991). In two Washington Cascades studies, its occurrence in old-growth (200-700 years old) was double or nearly double that in young (40-80 years) or mature (80-190 years) forest stands (Carey et al. 1991; Manuwal 1991). Old-growth stands showed greater spatial diversity and midstory cover, and lower canopy cover (Carey et al. 1991). Abundance was higher in mesic and dry old-growth Douglas-fir stands than in wet stands (Manuwal 1991).
Nests are placed in trees, shrubs, or vines, about 1-15 meters (usually less than 5 meters) above ground (e.g., in blackberry bush, huckleberry bush, overhanging vine, alder, drooping branch of conifer, among roots of fallen tree, crown of deciduous tree; Johnsgard 1983). Baltosser (1989) observed that areas with both greater quantities and more predictable nectar supplies supported more hummingbird nests; this pattern may also apply to rufous hummingbird.
Habitat in migration and winter includes open situations where flowers are present (AOU 1998). During southward migration, this species uses mountain meadows and disturbed habitats with Castilleja spp, Aquilegia formosa, Epilobium angustifolium, Delphinium spp. Penstemon barbatus, Monarda menthaefolia, Linaria vulgaris, and Cleome serrulata (Calder 1993). In Mexico, it occurs in pine woods with abundant flowers and flowering shrubs; in open country with scattered trees and shrubs; suburban gardens, parks, vacant lots (Edwards 1972). Nonbreeding habitat also includes oak forests interspersed with pine and juniper between 2,300-3,000 meters; higher oak-fir forests; shrubby secondary succession habitats; arid thorn forest; brush at farm and roadside edges with Salvia spp.; scrublands and disturbed oak woodland (Calder 1993).
Non-Migrant: No. All populations of this species make significant seasonal migrations.
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).
Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.
Route from Mexico to Alaska is longest migration of any North American hummingbird (True 1993). Stopover habitats are critical for accumulating resources required for migration.
Migration patterns coincide with weather patterns and flowering times (Calder 1993). Rufous hummingbirds migrate northward along the Pacific Coast and through lowlands west of the Rockies in winter and early spring (Calder 1993), arriving in California in late February-early March, Oregon by March 1, Alaska by mid-April. Southward migration is chiefly through mountains of Cascades/Sierras and Rocky Mountains. Southward migrants were observed in Colorado over a 6-week period in July and early August (Calder 1993). Arrival in southern Arizona/New Mexico occurs by late July/August and in central Mexico by August/September (Baltosser 1989; Calder 1993). Males migrate before females and juveniles (Phillips et al. 1964).
The Rufous Hummingbird consumes flies, ants, small beetles, tiny wasps and other small insects for a source of protein. Nectar is its most important food source for energy. It also drinks sap from the holes made by the Red-naped Sapsuckers for an extra food source. It feeds on nectar from several different flowering plants, such as honeysuckle, scarlet sage, horsemint, and black locust. This hummingbird is attracted to red and tubular flowers, preferring flowers that are spread farther apart giving it needed space for the beat of its wings. It eats about 1/2 to about 3 times its body weight. The Rufous Hummingbird feeds on nectar a minimum of sixty times a day. It consumes numerous small meals instead of a few big meals. It consumes nectar from flowering plants with its fork-like tongue at 13 licks per second ( Johnsgard 1983; Toops 1992; Chloe 1999; Sayre 1999; Gates and Gates 2000).
Comments: Diet includes nectar, insects, and tree sap from sapsucker wells. This species obtains nectar from a wide variety of flowering plant species, (e.g., columbine, scarlet gilia, penstemon, paintbrushes, sage, lilies, larkspurs, heaths, currants, salmonberry, honeysuckles, fireweed, horsemint, toad-flax, snapdragon, bee-flower, and others (Calder 1993). Arrival on southward migration in southern Arizona and New Mexico coincides with blooming and high abundance of Agave spp. (Baltosser 1989).
Experimental manipulation with feeders in successional forest habitat showed that rufous hummingbirds preferred the greatest available sucrose concentrations, ranging from 20 percent to 60 percent, and preferred nectar sources at greater heights (2-3 meters; Blem et al. 1997).
Insects are important sources of fat, protein, and salts; these are obtained by hawking, gleaning, and in tree sap (Calder 1993).
Number of Occurrences
Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.
Estimated Number of Occurrences: 81 to >300
Comments: This species is represented by a large number of occurrences (subpopulations).
Comments: Total population size is unknown but presumably exceeds 1,000,000. Rich et al. (2004) estimated population size at 6,500,000.
This hummingbird actively defends feeding and nesting territory both inter- and intraspecifically (Cody 1968; Baltosser 1989; Calder 1993). Banding returns show the species has strong fidelity to breeding sites, wintering sites, and migration routes (Calder and Jones 1989; Calder 1993); it has been shown to have strong spatial memory for nectar sites (Hurly 1996). Rufous hummingbirds establish and defend territories around nectar sources on breeding sites, migration stopovers, and wintering sites. Migrating birds can gain an average mass of 0.23 g per day, and conserve energy by going into torpor at night (Hixon and Carpenter 1988). Feeding territory size depends on flower density and fluctuates with the rate of weight gain possible from nectar availability and the cost of territorial defense (Kodric-Brown and Brown 1978; Gass 1979; Carpenter et al. 1983). Feeding territory sizes range from 32 to 3,300 square meters (Gass 1979; Kodric-Brown and Brown 1978). Calder (1993) notes that banded birds have been recaptured at feeders 2 kilometers apart in summer.
Breeding densities reported range from 0.17 to 2.6 nests per hectare (Horvath 1964 cited in Calder 1993). In Oregon Coast Range Douglas-fir forests, densities reported at 0.16 birds per hectare in young stands, 0.13 birds per hectare mature stands, and 0.33 birds per hectare in old-growth stands (Carey et al. 1991). Average relative abundances reported on BBS routes range from 0.83 to 4.94 birds per 25-mile survey route (Sauer et al. 1997). In winter, 95 individuals captured in 12 nets over two days in a pine-oak post-fire succession habitat in Sierra de Manantlan Biosphere Reserve, Jalisco, Mexico (Calder 1993).
Baltosser (1983, cited in Miller and Gass 1985) reported high egg and nestling predation (25 percent to 58 percent) in four species of hummingbirds; however, nest predation is apparently unstudied in rufous hummingbirds. Predation on adult hummingbirds is not likely to play a large role in adult mortality (Miller and Gass 1985; Calder 1993).
Some observers suggest that artificial feeders may increase populations above natural levels by providing food beyond flowering seasons (see Calder 1993) or encouraging birds to delay migration past availability of natural foods. Feeders may also subject birds to predation, disease, or collision with windows. However none of these factors are fully studied or quantified (Calder 1993).
Life History and Behavior
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Comments: This hummingbird is capable of altering energy balance by employing nocturnal torpor.
These hummingbirds have the longest known avian migration proportional to their body size, migrating over 1,500 km from Alaska to Mexico. Migration occurs between March and May. Nests are open cups placed in a shrub or on a small twig or branch of trees like conifers. Clutch size is two eggs. Upon hatching, the birds are helpless and naked.
Status: wild: 107 months.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
The breeding season for the Rufous Hummingbird begins in April and ends in July. The peak of the season usually occurs in May. The male will mate with several females during the breeding season. The male arrives at the desired breeding territory 2 to 3 weeks before the females. He attracts the female by climbing high into the air (20 to 45 m (75 to 150 ft)) then diving toward the female, pulling out of the dive and arcing back up into the sky after bottoming out within 2 or 3 inches of the female. During this mating display his wings are flapping at a rate of 200 wing beats per second, which creates the unique metallical "buzzing" sound heard during these displays. The female signals acceptance of the male as a mate by displaying the white tips of her tail. Copulation lasts only 3 to 5 seconds (Johnsgard 1983; Toops 1992; Chloe 1999).
The female builds her nest in blackberry vines, huckleberry bushes and other well protected overgrowths. Nests are built of mosses, leaves, and lichens woven together with spider webs. Rufous Hummingbirds usually lay two eggs about 1.3 cm (1/2 in) in size. The eggs take anywhere from 12 to 14 days to hatch, and the young leave the nest about 1 week after hatching. The female fiercely defends her nest from predators, while the male plays no role in defending or raising the young. (Johnsgard 1983; Toops 1992; Chloe 1999).
Range time to hatching: 12 to 14 days.
Average fledging age: 7 days.
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous
Average eggs per season: 2.
- Chloe, 1999. "Hummingbirds" (On-line). Accessed August 12, 2000 at http://www.mschloe.com/hummer/huminfo.htm.
- Johnsgard, P. 1983. The hummingbirds of North America. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.
- Toops, C. 1992. Hummingbirds: Jewels in Flight. Stillwater, MN: Voyageur Press, Inc.
Clutch size is two. Young are capable of first flight about 20 days after hatching (Terres 1980). Bent (1940) reported of instance of as many as 20 nests only a few yards apart in second-growth. Individuals may re-use a nest in subsequent years (Bent 1940, Calder 1993).
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Selasphorus rufus
Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.
See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.
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Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Selasphorus rufus
Public Records: 5
Specimens with Barcodes: 5
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- Least Concern (LC)
- Least Concern (LC)
- Least Concern (LC)
- Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
- Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
- Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)