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Rufous Hummingbird

Named after their plumage, these hummingbirds are known for their large range.

The Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus), specifically the male, is like an agile nugget of sunset or like a glowing piece of coal.

They have iridescent coppery-orange plumage, while females wear more greenish-brownish tones. There’s more than looks to them, including their aggressiveness and endurance while migrating.

Here is everything you need to know!



Rufous Hummingbirds are fairly small, measuring 2.8-3.5 inches long with a wingspan of 4.3 inches.

When perched, you can see that their tail tapers to a point and that their wings don’t reach the end of their tail. If they were to spread their tail feathers, you’d see that the feathers are broad, the tips are black and some of them are notched. Their black bills are narrow and straight.



Male Rufous Hummingbirds have overall bright and fiery orange plumage with a white upper chest and rump and dark wings. Their upperparts, including the head, back, and tail, are copper.

Male Rufous hummingbird

However, on rare occasions, some adult males may have some green on their backs and/or crowns. The coppery orange extends to its sides and belly but also pales slightly. Their most distinctive feature is their iridescent-orange throat patch, known as a gorget. Depending on the light, it may appear dark.

Immature males look more similar to females and are greenish above, have pale rust-colored flanks, and green spots on their white throat. They may also have iridescent orange spots.



Female Rufous Hummingbirds have a more understated and camouflaged appearance compared to their brightly colored male counterparts but are slightly larger and have longer wings.

Female Rufous Hummingbird

The upperparts are generally green, while the tail and sides are often tinged with rufous or reddish-brown, though not as prominently as in males. Their throats are white with green and the occasional iridescent orange spots and their wings are dark.



Rufous Hummingbirds are not particularly known for their vocalizations; instead, their sounds are more associated with wing and body movements. They are one of the noisiest hummers and also make a high-pitched trill as they’re flying and wind passes over their feathers.

The calls they do emit are mostly warning signals. If they spot a threat, they let out a chipping noise to alert others. Males also make a chu-chu-chu-chu sound when performing their dive display for the females.



Rufous Hummingbirds’ diet primarily consists of nectar from flowers, which they supplement with insects and spiders.

They have long, specialized bills and extendable, tube-like tongues that allow them to reach deep into colorful tubular flowers to extract nectar. Those flowers include scarlet gilia, mints, penstemons, scarlet sage, lilies, fireweeds, larkspurs, currants, columbine, and heaths.

Their metabolism is extremely high, and they need to consume about half of their body weight each day.

While nectar forms the bulk of their diet, Rufous Hummingbirds also supplement their nutrition with insects and spiders, including gnats, midges, and flies. They catch these small creatures in mid-air or by gleaning them from foliage. Insects provide essential proteins and other nutrients that may be lacking in their nectar-based diet.

They also visit hummingbird feeders for sugar water. They may hover or drink it while perched.


Nesting and Eggs

Rufous Hummingbirds breed from April to July. Males engage in flashy displays to attract females, showcasing their vibrant plumage and agility.

These displays may include rapid dives, oval-, J, or U-shaped flights, and pendulum-like swings, often accompanied by buzzing sounds generated by their wingbeats. Males may also fly in figure-8s when the female is perching.

After the birds copulate, the male continues courting other females, and the female finds a suitable nesting site and builds a nest.

Rufous Hummingbird nests are often situated in deciduous or coniferous trees 3-30 feet high but generally in the lower part of the tree. She builds the 2-inch cup from fine and soft plant material, such as grasses, plant down, and moss, weaves it together with spider webs, and camouflages the outside with moss and lichens.

Rufous Hummingbirds have only one brood per year with 2-3 white eggs in a clutch. They are only half an inch long and 0.3 inches wide.

The mother bird incubates them for about 15-17 days and then feeds her young by sticking her bill into their throat and regurgitating a mix of nectar and tiny insects. Young hummingbirds fledge at around 15-19 days of age, and if they do so successfully, they won’t return to the nest and begin to live independently.


Current Situation

Rufous Hummingbird range throughout western North America and Mexico. They breed throughout their range in Alaska, Canada, and, the northwestern United States and migrate to Mexico for the winter. You can encounter them at an elevation of 6,000 to 9,800 feet.

Rufous Hummingbird

During the breeding season, Rufous Hummingbirds can be found in habitats such as coniferous forests, chaparral, parks, meadows, orchards, and gardens. They may also visit urban areas that have enough greenery.

After the end of the breeding season, they fly down to the pine-oak woods in Mexico. On migration, they take advantage of the wildflower season in the Rocky Mountains and nearby lowlands.

Rufous Hummingbirds are listed as a near-threatened species on the IUCN Red List. Although they are numbered in millions, then their population is decreasing due to habitat destruction and climate change. However, the reason behind this decline is not fully understood at the moment.



  • Rufous Hummingbirds undertake the longest migration in terms of body length. They fly 3,900 miles from Alaska to Mexico, which is equivalent to 78,470,000 body lengths (if we consider them to be around 3 inches long).
  • Rufous Hummingbirds can change how loudly and in what pitch their wings hum by changing how fast they move their wings.
  • Male Rufous Hummingbirds have shorter wings, females have longer wings. Males defend smaller territories where flowers are very close to each other and chase away any competition, including females of the same species. Therefore, females defend larger territories where flowers are situated more sparsely.
  • Rufous Hummingbirds have a great memory, remembering places where they can get sustenance. After coming back from migration, they have been reported to look for the hummingbird feeders they fed from that have since been removed or moved to a new location.
  • Rufous Hummingbirds have the northernmost breeding range of all the hummingbird species.


Similar Species

It is notoriously difficult to differentiate between hummingbirds unless they are perching (preferably somewhere nearby) and you can snap a good photo of them to base your identification on. This is especially so for Rufous Hummingbirds because they are incredibly similar to Allen’s Hummingbirds and fairly similar to some others. Here are the most similar species and how to tell which is which.


Allen’s Hummingbird



Allen’s Hummingbirds breed along the forests, scrub, and chaparral of the west coast of the United States and migrate to central Mexico for the winter. Male Allen’s Hummingbirds have a vibrant, iridescent green back and crown, rust-colored flanks, white chest and rump, and a throat patch that ranges from orange-red to golden-orange.

Females have similar plumage to males, but theirs is duller and their white throats are speckled with tiny greenish dots.

There are only three ways to differentiate between the species because they look incredibly similar overall: range, the back of males, and their tail feathers. If you happen to see one that suits this description, first check the time of the year and then range maps. Males can generally be differentiated by the fact that Rufous Hummingbirds have a coppery back whereas Allen’s Hummingbirds have a green back.


Broad-tailed Hummingbird

Broad-tailed hummingbird

Broad-tailed Hummingbirds have a fragmented breeding range across the western United States and Mexico. They can be found in open woodlands and meadows at an elevation of 5,000-10,000 feet during the breeding season.

Male Broad-tailed Hummingbirds are green overall with white chests and a rose-colored throat. Females look the same but have a green-spotted white throat instead of green and a rusty wash on their flanks.

In this case, you would only have trouble with differentiating between the females. Overall, female Rufous Hummingbirds have more orange in their plumage. The sides of Broad-tailed Hummingbirds are paler and they lack the copper on the tail.


Calliope Hummingbird


Calliope Hummingbirds breed in southwestern Canada and the western United States and they migrate to southern Mexico for the winter. They prefer to breed in cool mountain meadows, stream thickets, and regenerating forests at elevations of 4,000-11,000 feet. Males are green above and white below and have rays of iridescent purple feathers on their throat. Females look the same, except they have a white throat with tiny green dots.

Again, you only need to worry about identifying the females. If you get a good look, it shouldn’t be too difficult as Calliope Hummingbirds are smaller and lack any kind of orange in their plumage.



Frequently Asked Questions

Where are Rufous Hummingbirds most common?

Rufous Hummingbirds are common in the Rockies during fall, the Pacific Northwest and Alaska in summer, and in California during winter.

How big are Rufous Hummingbirds?

Rufous Hummingbirds are rather small, measuring 2.8-3.5 inches long with a wingspan of 4.3 inches.

How far do Rufous Hummingbirds migrate?

Rufous Hummingbirds migrate roughly 3,900 miles from Alaska and Canada to Mexico.

When do Rufous Hummingbirds migrate?

Rufous Hummingbirds migrate twice a year, in late winter and in spring.

What does a female Rufous Hummingbird look like?

A female Rufous Hummingbird has greenish-brown backs and crowns, with rufous or reddish-brown tinges on the throat and sides.

About the Author

Heleen Roos

Heleen has loved the outdoors and nature since childhood and has always been fascinated with birds, leading her to research more about them. She has accumulated a lot of knowledge about their behaviors and habits through birdwatching tours and her own explorations. Her goal is to share the most interesting and useful facts about them.

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