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Rufous Hummingbird

Selasphorus rufus ORDER: APODIFORMES FAMILY: TROCHILIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

The feistiest hummingbird in North America. The brilliant orange male and the green-and-orange female Rufous Hummingbird are relentless attackers at flowers and feeders, going after (if not always defeating) even the large hummingbirds of the Southwest, which can be double their weight. Rufous Hummingbirds are wide-ranging, and breed farther north than any other hummingbird. Look for them in spring in California, summer in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, and fall in the Rocky Mountains as they make their annual circuit of the West.

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Keys to identification Help

Hummingbirds
Hummingbirds
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    A fairly small hummingbird with a slender, nearly straight bill, a tail that tapers to a point when folded, and fairly short wings that don’t reach the end of the tail when the bird is perched.

  • Color Pattern

    In good light, male Rufous Hummingbirds glow like coals: bright orange on the back and belly, with a vivid iridescent-red throat. Females are green above with rufous-washed flanks, rufous patches in the green tail, and often a spot of orange in the throat.

  • Behavior

    Rufous Hummingbirds have the hummingbird gift for fast, darting flight and pinpoint maneuverability. They are pugnacious birds that tirelessly chase away other hummingbirds, even in places they’re only visiting on migration. Like other hummers, they eat insects as well as nectar, taking them from spider webs or catching them in midair.

  • Habitat

    Rufous Hummingbirds breed in open areas, yards, parks, and forests up to treeline. On migration they pass through mountain meadows as high as 12,600 feet where nectar-rich, tubular flowers are blooming. Winter habitat in Mexico includes shrubby openings and oak-pine forests at middle to high elevation.

Range Map Help

Rufous Hummingbird Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult female or immature

    Rufous Hummingbird

    Adult female or immature
    • Greenish gold crown and back
    • White breast
    • Usually iridescent reddish spot on center of throat
    • Reddish tail with black patches and white tips
    • © cl cochran, Arizona, January 2009
  • Adult female or immature

    Rufous Hummingbird

    Adult female or immature
    • Green back, reddish rump and tail
    • Dull rufous sides, white belly and breast
    • Throat with greenish spotting, usually with red center spot
    • © cdbtx, Monroe, Washington, May 2008
  • Adult male

    Rufous Hummingbird

    Adult male
    • Red-gold iridescent throat and chin
    • Rufous face and sides
    • Green forehead (may be mostly rufous)
    • Rufous nape and back (back may be green on some birds)
    • © cdbtx, Monroe, Washington, May 2008
  • Adult female or immature

    Rufous Hummingbird

    Adult female or immature
    • Rufous sides, flanks, and undertail
    • Rufous eyebrow
    • © Sam Wilson, Scottsdale, Arizona, August 2007
  • Adult female or immature

    Rufous Hummingbird

    Adult female or immature
    • Rufous sides
    • Greenish gold crown and back
    • White spot behind eye
    • © Sam Wilson, Tucson, Arizona, February 2007
  • Adult male

    Rufous Hummingbird

    Adult male
    • Rufous face and sides
    • White spot behind eye
    • Green forehead (may be mostly rufous)
    • Red-gold iridescent throat and chin
    • © nieke's nature, British Columbia, March 2008
  • Adult male

    Rufous Hummingbird

    Adult male
    • Rufous face, nape and back (some show green on back)
    • Red-gold iridescent throat and chin may appear brown from some angles
    • © Laura Erickson, Mexico, October 2006
  • Immature male

    Rufous Hummingbird

    Immature male
    • Mottled red-gold and white throat
    • Rufous face, sides, and flanks
    • © sannesu, California, July 2008
  • Adult male

    Rufous Hummingbird

    Adult male
    • Red-gold iridescent throat and chin
    • Rufous face and sides
    • Rufous back (may be green on some individuals), green shoulders
    • © Mike Wisnicki, British Columbia, May 2008
  • Adult male

    Rufous Hummingbird

    Adult male
    • Red-gold iridescent throat and chin may appear brown from some angles
    • Rufous face, sides, rump, and tail
    • © Lois Miller, Port Orford, Oregon, February 2008

Similar Species

  • Adult male

    Allen's Hummingbird

    Adult male
    • Similar to adult male Rufous Hummingbird
    • Nape green (may be rufous)
    • Back tends more green than Rufous (from green cap and back to all green upperparts)
    • © Cindy CC Chow, Northridge, California, February 2008
  • Adult male

    Allen's Hummingbird

    Adult male
    • Similar to adult male Rufous Hummingbird
    • Back tends more green than Rufous (from green cap and back to all green upperparts)
    • Outermost tail feathers extremely thin (not visible)
    • © rth_baum
  • Adult male

    Broad-tailed Hummingbird

    Adult male
    • Similar to adult male Rufous Hummingbird
    • Green upperparts
    • Green and white face
    • Buffy (not orange) sides
    • Pale chin
    • © Gary Wilson, Sierra Vista, Arizona, July 2006
  • Adult female

    Ruby-throated Hummingbird

    Adult female
    • Similar to female or immature Rufous Hummingbird
    • Sides grayish or only slightly buff (never orangish)
    • White spot behind eye, no obvious eyebrow
    • Green and black tail with white feather tips
    • © Debbie McKenzie, Alabama
  • Adult male

    Ruby-throated Hummingbird

    Adult male
    • Similar to adult male Rufous Hummingbird
    • Black cheek
    • Green upperparts
    • Greenish gray sides (no orangish)
    • Dark tail
    • © Laura Erickson, Wisconsin, July 2006

Similar Species

Male Allen's Hummingbirds have a green back and rump. Rarely, male Rufous Hummingbirds show a green back, so look closely. If you see any completely rufous feathers (not just rufous-edged) on the back, it is a Rufous Hummingbird. Female and juvenile Rufous and Allen's hummingbirds are nearly indistinguishable in the field - it's probably better not to try to identify them during migration, when their ranges overlap considerably. In Allen's Hummingbirds, the outermost tail feather is narrower than the other tail feathers. Among other female hummingbirds, Broad-tailed Hummingbirds have paler buffy sides, lack rufous in the rump, and have little rufous in the tail. Calliope Hummingbirds have only a little rufous in the tail, lack rufous on the rump, and are smaller than Rufous Hummingbirds. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are grayish on the flanks rather than orange.

Backyard Tips

Rufous Hummingbirds may take up residence (at least temporarily) in your garden if you grow hummingbird flowers or put out feeders. But beware! They may make life difficult for any other hummingbird species that visit your yard. If you live on their migration route, visiting Rufous Hummingbirds are likely to move on after just a week or two.

Make sugar water mixtures with about one-quarter cup of sugar per cup of water. Food coloring is unnecessary; table sugar is the best choice. Change the water before it grows cloudy or discolored and remember that during hot weather, sugar water ferments rapidly to produce toxic alcohol.

Find This Bird

Backyards and flower-filled parks are good places to find Rufous Hummingbirds while they’re around, but these birds spend much of the year on the move. Check out the maps and charts from eBird to find out when Rufous Hummingbirds are reported in your area. You can select any location to display.

Get Involved

Wildflowers that Keep Out Bees: A study shows why bees can’t raid some hummingbird flowers

Keep track of the Rufous Hummingbirds at your feeder with Project FeederWatch

Look for Rufous Hummingbirds nests and contribute valuable data about them through NestWatch

Western Hummingbirds in the East: How to attract, identify, and report late-season vagrants to eBird

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All About Birds blog, Here’s What to Feed Your Summer Bird Feeder Visitors, July 11, 2014.

All About Birds blog, These 8 Unexpected Migration Routes Give You Reason to Go Birding in Summer, July 16, 2014.

All About Birds blog, Summertime in the United States of Hummingbirds, July 29, 2014.