Skip to main content

Rufous Hummingbird Life History


Open WoodlandsRufous Hummingbirds typically breed in open or shrubby areas, forest openings, yards, and parks, and sometimes in forests, thickets, swamps, and meadows from sea level to about 6,000 feet. During their migration, look for Rufous Hummingbirds in mountain meadows up to 12,600 feet elevation. In Mexico, wintering Rufous Hummingbirds live in oak, pine, and juniper woods at 7,500 to 10,000 feet elevation, shrubby areas, and thorn forests.Back to top


NectarRufous Hummingbirds feed primarily on nectar from colorful, tubular flowers including columbine, scarlet gilia, penstemon, Indian paintbrush, mints, lilies, fireweeds, larkspurs, currants, and heaths. Rufous Hummingbirds get protein and fat from eating insects, particularly gnats, midges, and flies taken from the air, and aphids taken from plants.Back to top


Nest Placement

TreeFemales begin nesting within 3 days of arrival on their breeding grounds. They put their nests up to about 30 feet high in coniferous or deciduous trees such as Sitka spruce, western red cedar, Douglas-fir, pines, hemlock, birch, maples, thimbleberry, and occasionally ferns or vines. Nests are hidden in drooping branches, sometimes with several nests (up to 20) in the space of just a few yards.

Nest Description

The female builds the nest alone using soft plant down held together with spider web. She decorates (or camouflages) the outside with lichen, moss, and bark. Finished nests are about 2 inches across on the outside, with an inner cup width of about an inch. Nests may be reused the following year, not necessarily by the same individual.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:2-3 eggs
Number of Broods:1 brood
Egg Length:0.5 in (1.3 cm)
Egg Width:0.3 in (0.8 cm)
Incubation Period:15-17 days
Nestling Period:15-19 days
Egg Description:Tiny, white (about a half-inch long).
Condition at Hatching:Naked apart from sparse gray down along the back, eyes closed, clumsy.
Back to top


HoveringRufous Hummingbirds hover at flowers to sip nectar or fly from one to another in fast, straight lines. When not feeding they perch nearby, then launch themselves after any other hummingbirds that appear. All ages and both sexes are aggressive, even during brief 1-2 week stopovers in the course of migration, at which times they may chase off resident Broad-tailed, Broad-billed, Violet-crowned, and Black-chinned hummingbirds. Males may chase off females from feeders even during the breeding season. You may see Rufous Hummingbirds picking insects out of the air, out of spider webs, or from leaves or bark. When agitated, they fan their tails and chip, and males flash their iridescent throat patches. Males perform a steep oval or J-shaped courtship flight when a female enters their breeding territory. If the female perches, the male may switch to low, horizontal figure-8s.Back to top



Rufous Hummingbird populations declined across their range by approximately 2% per year resulting in a cumulative decline of about 67% between 1966 and 2019, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 22 million and rates them 14 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. Rufous Hummingbirds are included on the Yellow Watch List for birds most at risk of extinction without significant conservation actions to reverse declines and reduce threats.

Back to top


Dunne, P. (2006). Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, USA.

Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye (1988). The Birder's Handbook. A Field Guide to the Natural History of North American Birds, Including All Species That Regularly Breed North of Mexico. Simon and Schuster Inc., New York, NY, USA.

Healy, Susan and William A. Calder. (2006). Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.

Rosenberg, K. V., J. A. Kennedy, R. Dettmers, R. P. Ford, D. Reynolds, J. D. Alexander, C. J. Beardmore, P. J. Blancher, R. E. Bogart, G. S. Butcher, A. F. Camfield, A. Couturier, D. W. Demarest, W. E. Easton, J. J. Giocomo, R. H. Keller, A. E. Mini, A. O. Panjabi, D. N. Pashley, T. D. Rich, J. M Ruth, H. Stabins, J. Stanton, and T. Will (2016). Partners in Flight Landbird Conservation Plan: 2016 Revision of Canada and Continental United States. Partners in Flight Science Committee.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2019). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2019. Version 2.07.2019. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

Back to top

Learn more at Birds of the World