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Rufous Hummingbird

In March we welcome Rufous Hummingbirds, who fly up to 3,000 miles from their wintering grounds to join us in the northwest.

by John Rakestraw

Watercolor of a Rufous male by Jens Tomas Larsen

Rufous Hummingbirds (Selasphorus rufus) range farther north than any other hummingbird, breeding as far north as southeastern Alaska. They arrive in Oregon in March, usually when Red-flowering Currants are in bloom, and leave in September for their winter range in Mexico and along the Gulf Coast. This species uses a broad range of habitats, including mature forest, open woodland, meadow, and residential areas.

DESCRIPTION: Rufous Hummingbirds are small, yet very aggressive, often chasing other species away from food sources. Male: Males are rusty-orange overall, with green on the crown, and variable amounts of green on the back of some individuals. The gorget (the reflective feathers on the throat) is coppery-red, often with a greenish sheen. The breast is white, while the belly and sides are rufous. The tail feathers are rufous with black tips. Female: Females are a dull bronze-green above, with very limited rufous on the rump. Throat is whitish with dark spots and a concentration of orange-red spots in the center. The underparts are white with pale buffy-orange sides. Tail feathers are rufous at the base, then green and/or black. The three outer sets of tail feathers have white tips. Juveniles resemble adult females, but with little or no markings on the throat.

SOUNDS: Call is a harsh chi-tick. In flight, the wings of adult males produce a metallic trill. Females and juveniles do not create this sound. Males make display flights to attract a female or intimidate intruders. The display is a series of J-shaped dives, all starting at different points but ending at the same point. At the end of the male’s display dive, a stuttering ch-ch-ch-ch-chi sound is diagnostic for this species.

NESTING HABITS: This species begins nesting in March. Like other hummingbirds, they do not form pair bonds, so males do not participate in nest building or caring for the young.

FOOD:    Rufous Hummingbirds feed on floral nectar and small insects. They will frequent hummingbird feeders that are kept clean and fresh.