Male
  • Female/immature visiting sapsucker wells
  • Male
  • Female. Note: rufous flanks and small spot on gorget.
  • Male

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Rufous Hummingbird

Selasphorus rufus
Apodiformes
The order, Apodiformes, contains the swifts and hummingbirds, birds that at first glance seem to have little in common. Both groups, however, are similar in the structure of their wings, modified for very rapid movement and both have tiny legs. Both swifts and hummingbirds also have only 10 tail feathers, not 12 like most other birds, and they share similarities in cranial structure. Swifts are found over much of the world, but hummingbirds are found only in the Americas. Both families are represented in Washington:
Trochilidae
Hummingbirds are tiny, nectar- and insect-eating birds. Their unique manner of flight allows them to fly forwards, backwards, or hover in one spot. Hummingbirds are found only in the Western Hemisphere, and most are found in tropical areas. Of the species that live in Washington, all but one migrate south in the winter. Male hummingbirds often have an iridescent throat patch called a "gorget." The females build the nests, incubate, and feed the young without assistance from males. Hummingbirds are among the smallest of warm-blooded animals and often consume more than half their total weight in food and twice their weight in water in a single day.
Common summer resident.
  • Species of Concern
  • Sound To Sage

General Description

Rufous Hummingbirds are small and compact. Except for their white chests and short green wings, males are rufous all over, the only rufous-backed North American hummingbird. Females are green above, with rufous flanks and rufous at the base of the tail, visible when spread. Their throats have a reddish central spot which is not always visible.

Habitat

Typically found at edges and in open areas within coniferous forests, Rufous Hummingbirds are also found in sub-alpine shrubby habitats and in residential areas. In damp western Washington, they are found in many habitats. On the dry side of the Cascades they are limited to higher elevations and other locations where rainfall is greater.

Behavior

In courtship, the male attracts the female with an aerial display. He dives close to a female, his feathers making a loud whining sound near the bottom of an oval trajectory. Rufous Hummingbirds are highly territorial, defending feeding territories not only while breeding but also during migration. Rufous Hummingbirds do not sing but make warning chips in response to perceived threats. Their wings make a whine much like the sound of a cicada.

Diet

Rufous Hummingbirds feed on insects and on nectar from flowers. In Washington, they feed heavily on red flowering currant, salmonberry, honeysuckle, and on sugar-water at hummingbird feeders.

Nesting

The female Rufous Hummingbird commonly builds her nest over the previous year's nest, which is typically 2 to 10 feet from the ground in a coniferous tree. In the Puget Sound area, nests are often built among huckleberry bushes, alders, blackberries, or drooping conifer branches. In western Washington, protection from rain and other weather is a major factor in nest location. Nests built early in the breeding season are situated low in conifers, protecting them from the rain and cold. Nests built later in the summer are found high in deciduous trees where they are less likely to overheat. The nest is built with moss, lined with plant down, covered on the outside with lichen and bark, and held together with spider webbing. The female lays two eggs and incubates them for 15-17 days. She feeds and cares for the young by herself until they become independent at about 21 days.

Migration Status

Rufous Hummingbirds winter in Mexico and south Texas. In recent years, they have been wintering more frequently in the gulf states and have attempted to winter in the northeast. In the spring, they migrate up the Pacific Coast, reaching as far north as south-central Alaska, and they are thus the northernmost breeding hummingbird. Because of their coastal migration, they arrive on the Washington coast before they are seen inland. They arrive in Washington from late February to early March and their arrival typically coincides with the bloom of red flowering currant and salmonberry. In June and July, males leave the breeding grounds for higher elevations, from which they will later migrate south. Females and juveniles leave the state from late July through September, with most migrating in August.

Conservation Status

Rufous Hummingbirds are common throughout their range, although the Breeding Bird Survey shows a significant decline from 1982-1991. They are listed on both the Audubon-Washington and Partners in Flight lists of species-at-risk.

When and Where to Find in Washington

Most common in western Washington, Rufous Hummingbirds are also found in the eastern Cascades, the northeastern corner of the state, and the Blue Mountains. In eastern Washington, they are normally found above the lower part of the Ponderosa pine zone. In the Columbia Basin, they can be found breeding in residential areas. Look for them in salmonberry patches in the spring and at hummingbird feeders.

Click here to visit this species' account and breeding-season distribution map in Sound to Sage, Seattle Audubon's on-line breeding bird atlas of Island, King, Kitsap, and Kittitas Counties.

Abundance Code DefinitionsAbundance

C=Common; F=Fairly Common; U=Uncommon; R=Rare; I=Irregular
EcoregionJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec
Oceanic
Pacific Northwest Coast FCCCCFU
Puget Trough RUCCCCFF
North Cascades UCCCCCU
West Cascades RUCCCCUR
East Cascades FFFFF
Okanogan UFFFFF
Canadian Rockies FFFF
Blue Mountains UFFFFR
Columbia Plateau UURUUR

Washington Range Map

North American Range Map

North America map legend

Federal Endangered Species ListAudubon/American Bird Conservancy Watch ListState Endangered Species ListAudubon Washington Vulnerable Birds List
Early Warning

View full list of Washington State's Species of Special Concern