Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus)
Hummingbirds are generally known for being quick and energetic fliers, but the Rufous Hummingbird just may be the zippiest of them all. The Rufous Hummingbird is a tiny hummingbird that is very agile in flight, even when compared to other hummingbirds. Despite their small size, Rufous Hummingbirds are particularly territorial, and they are known to aggressively defend their food sources by chasing away other visitors. Their territorial antics can be enjoyable to watch, especially if a Rufous Hummingbird stakes its claim to your hummingbird feeders!
Male Rufous Hummingbirds are the only hummingbirds found in the United States with an entirely orange-colored back. They have a patch of iridescent feathers called a gorget on their throat, which usually appears bright red. Since most hummingbirds appear green at first glance, this bright and shiny coloration makes male Rufous Hummingbirds easy to spot as they zip by from one place to the next. Female Rufous Hummingbirds can be more difficult to identify since they are not quite as alarmingly bright – they are greenish above and buffy white below, but they show characteristic orange coloring in their tail feathers.
The Rufous Hummingbird is commonly found across the western United States, reaching areas of southern Alaska during the summer breeding season. Though they primarily winter in Mexico, some individuals can be reliably found during fall and winter along the Gulf Coast as far east as the Florida panhandle. Rufous Hummingbirds tend to stay close to the Pacific Coast during spring migration, but during fall many will instead stray eastward before heading south, making a large, circuitous journey around the western United States. This fall migration pattern often results in small numbers of Rufous Hummingbirds travelling further east than usual, making them the most common of the “western” hummingbirds in eastern North America.
By Aidan Healey, Conservation Technician, Houston Audubon
📸 Photos by Greg Lavaty