Have you ever been mesmerized by the flight of a hummingbird? These delicate birds flit and dart around the garden in a hypnotic dance that has captivated humans for centuries. The Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus), with its bright red-orange feathering, is a beautiful hummingbird species whose beauty belies its hardy nature and adaptability. Learn more about this fascinating bird as we uncover surprising facts about these tiny creatures.
10 Rufous Hummingbird Facts
From their eating habits and habitats to their migratory behavior, the Rufous Hummingbird has quite a few interesting quirks. Here are some of the most interesting facts about this species:
1. They are the feistiest hummingbirds
The rufous hummingbirds may be tiny, but they are fiercely territorial. As the most vibrant and energetic hummingbird native to North America, it’s renowned for being one of the feistiest of its kind and tends to dominate other hummingbirds at flower beds and bird feeders, despite usually being smaller than them in weight.
Its wide range has enabled it to breed further north than any other hummingbird, making sightings of these birds possible during their yearly circulation across the western part of the continent; they are seen in California during spring seasons, while in summer months, they inhabit the areas around Pacific Northwest and Alaska before traveling towards the Rocky Mountains during autumn.
2. Well-adapted to cold temperatures
Rufous Hummingbirds can remarkably survive cold temperatures and even mild freezes. This allows them to migrate into areas where evening temperatures in the early spring may drop below zero. They have evolved with an ability to go into torpor at night, which helps them conserve energy during the cold.
By entering a state of torpor, they can reduce their metabolic rate and energy expenditure, thereby increasing their chance of survival in such challenging conditions. This adaptation is especially beneficial for the Rufous Hummingbird since they nest in Canada and Alaska, where temperatures may drop quite low even in the warmer months.
3. They have a long migration route
The Rufous Hummingbird is widely known for its exceptionally long migration range. These birds travel up to 4,000 miles from Mexico to Alaska, one of the longest migrations of any bird!
They start their migration as early as January from their wintering grounds, flying north along the Pacific coast and reaching the northern most point of their range (Alaska, British Columbia and Washington) by May. After spending just a few months nesting, they may begin to head south as early as mid-July. Rather than reversing the route they took in the spring, they instead head south along the Rocky Mountains.
4. They have an excellent memory for location
Rufous Hummingbird is known for its amazing memory for location. These birds avoid flowers they have emptied recently and return to flowers they know they left with food remaining. It is believed some may be able to remember the location of hummingbird feeders from year to year.
5. More colorful than many U.S. hummingbirds
Males are quite colorful with rufous (rusty orange) on most of their body except for their white chest. They have green-bronze iridescent feathers on the top of their head and back, and a bright reddish-orange throat. These orange feathers stick out among most species typically seen in the United States, who often have green bodies.
Females are slightly bigger than their male counterparts but are much less colorful. They are usually a mix of pale green and rust, with a pale orange wash on their sides. Their throat is dotted with mostly green feathers, although a few may be orange. Female Rufous hummingbirds are often mistaken for female Allen’s hummingbirds, since they have such similar coloring.
6. Perform courtship displays for females
To attract females, males perform courtship displays. When they notice a female fly into their territory during the breeding season, it’s time to put on a show. The female will perch and watch while the male performs dives in the shape of an oval or letter J. He may then come in closer, and perform some horizontal figure 8’s while showing off his colorful gorget feathers.
7. Feeds on nectar and insects
The Rufous Hummingbird mainly feeds on nectar from flowers and small insects. Some of their favorite flowers for nectar include currants, paintbrush, mints, columbine and lilies. When they need some protein in their diet, they choose small soft-bodied insects like gnats, flies, aphids and spiders.
8. They aren’t very friendly with other hummingbird species
These birds often chase other hummers away from their feeding and nesting areas. They patrol and protect their feeding areas from bees and anything else that feeds on nectar, even when they are not threatened. Rufous hummingbirds do not share resources, are not known to be social birds. In fact, they are considered one of the more aggressive hummingbird species in North America.
9. Can fly backwards
Hummingbirds are among the few birds that can fly backward and upside down, and the Rufous certainly has all of hummingbirds signature flying prowess. These birds have a lot of skeletal and flight muscle adaptations that allow for great agility.
The rotator cuff in their wing joint enables them to free their wings to move in all directions. These tiny colorful birds can also move their wings in a figure of 8, which means they can hover around one place, which is why they can easily move backward.
10. They are commonly seen at nectar feeders
Rufous is a species that is not shy about visiting backyard feeders. You may catch them in early spring for a few days on their migration north, or if you live in the Pacific northwest they may stick around until late summer. Unfortunately because of their aggressive behavior, if they really like your feeder they may chase away anyone else who wants to use it!