Identifying a hummingbird can get tricky. There are many different types in North America alone and their quick flight and motions make it exceptionally difficult to get a good view. However, it is not impossible. By understanding key field marks and identification tips, birders can begin to increase their chances of spotting these tiny creatures.
The Rufous Hummingbird is particularly interesting. They are recognized as the most aggressive hummingbird in North America. They are a brilliant sight to see with their feisty behavior and stunning color. Like most other hummingbirds, the Rufous flaps their wings extremely fast at 52-62 wingbeats per second, making them tough to pinpoint. Thankfully, their vibrant plumage helps birders distinguish them from other hummingbirds.
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A Rufous Hummingbird has key field marks and identifiable characteristics that can set it apart from other hummingbirds. To properly identify a Rufous, you’ll want to take notice of the following…
Size and Shape
The Rufous Hummingbird is one of the smaller hummers. It weighs around 0.1-0.2 ounces and is 2.8-3.5 inches in height.
- Bill: It has a black bill that is relatively straight and thin, perfect for sipping nectar from deep flowers and feeder ports.
- Tail: The Rufous Hummingbird has a tail that arrives at a point when folded. Their outer tail feathers are broad, with a notched tip on the fourth tail feather (from the outside).
- Wings: Their wings are shorter and unable to reach the end of the tail while perching.
Color and Pattern
- Crown, Nape and Back: Adult male Rufous Hummingbirds are bright orange on the crown, nape and back. Some adult males have green on their backs, similar to that of the Allen’s Hummingbird. Female Rufous’ backsides are mostly green but can sometimes have orange.
- Flanks: Females have rufous-washed and orange flanks.
- Chest and Throat: Males have iridescent red throats and a white patch amidst their orange colored breast. Females often have a spot of orange or red in the throat.
If you’ve ever seen a bright orange hummingbird chase away other hummingbirds at feeders, then you’ve probably witnessed a Rufous Hummingbird. Despite its size, this tiny species is combative and quick to put up a fight for resources, even if that means defending itself against larger birds. These hummers have even been known to chase chipmunks away from their nests!
Like other hummers, they usually feed while hovering or perching and their diet consists of insects and nectar. You may find them trying to catch small insects in midair or taking spiders from their webs. When not feeding, Rufous Hummingbird will be perched close by. If a threat to their food source appears, they’ll quickly launch themselves after another bird. When agitated or threatened, you can find this hummer fanning its tail or letting out an assortment of high-pitched communication.
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From the edges of forests to the brushy growth between the coast and mountains, Rufous Hummingbird are always on the move. You can also find them in backyards and parks
with a lot of flowers they can drink from. Since they have an excellent memory for location, some birds will return to feeders and other food sources year after year. As Rufous Hummingbird can make it difficult for other hummers to feed in your backyard, it’s beneficial that most of their time is usually spent migrating.
These birds may make one of the longest migratory journeys of any bird in the world, when measured by body size. They move roughly 3,900 miles from Alaska to Mexico one way. With the Rufous Hummingbird being just over 3 inches long, their migration is equivalent to 78,470,000 body lengths. In comparison to most other birds’ sizes and migration lengths, that’s quite a far journey!
Rufous Hummingbird breed farther north than any other hummingbird. You can find them in California during the later winter and spring, the Pacific Northwest and Alaska in the summer and the Rocky Mountains during the fall as they circuit the West. Their migration pattern is peculiar, making a clockwise circuit of western North America, yearly.
Source: Cornell Lab of Ornithology