Selasphorus rufusrufous hummingbird

Geographic Range

Rufous Hummingbird, Selasphorus rufus, is found in western and coastal North America from March through August, and migrates to Mexico in the winter months of October through February (Johnsgard 1983).


During breeding season, Rufous Hummingbirds are found in forests, on seed-tree harvest units, riparian shrub, and spruce-fir habitats. During the winter, it lives wherever flowers are present. It migrates to lowland stream bottoms, foothill brush land, seacoast and high mountain meadows (Johnsgard 1983; Paige et al. 1999).

Physical Description

The adult male rufous has a white breast with greenish back and crown. The back is sometimes glossed with metallic bronze-green. The pileum (the top of the head from the bill to the nape) is bronze-green, and the gorget (collar) is bright orange-red. The chin and throat is a shiny metallic scarlet color. The bill is long, straight, thin, black or dark brown in color. The feet are a dusky color. The adult female rufous has a metallic bronze-green back, and the pileum is a little duller than the male rufous. From the chin and the throat, down to the breast of the female, is a dull white color. Rufous Hummingbird has a body length of about 7.3 to 9.1 cm (2.87 to 3.58 in), and weighs around 2.8 g to 4.0 g (0.097 to 0.141 Oz). Unlike other birds that have large sound-producing muscles extending from the windpipe to the chest bone,the rufous has two sets of small vocal muscles in the trachea (Johnsgard 1983; Toops 1992; Sayre 1999).

  • Range mass
    2.8 to 4 g
    0.10 to 0.14 oz
  • Average mass
    3.37 g
    0.12 oz
  • Average basal metabolic rate
    0.06853 W


The breeding season for the Rufous Hummingbird begins in April and ends in July. The peak of the season usually occurs in May. The male will mate with several females during the breeding season. The male arrives at the desired breeding territory 2 to 3 weeks before the females. He attracts the female by climbing high into the air (20 to 45 m (75 to 150 ft)) then diving toward the female, pulling out of the dive and arcing back up into the sky after bottoming out within 2 or 3 inches of the female. During this mating display his wings are flapping at a rate of 200 wing beats per second, which creates the unique metallical "buzzing" sound heard during these displays. The female signals acceptance of the male as a mate by displaying the white tips of her tail. Copulation lasts only 3 to 5 seconds (Johnsgard 1983; Toops 1992; Chloe 1999).

The female builds her nest in blackberry vines, huckleberry bushes and other well protected overgrowths. Nests are built of mosses, leaves, and lichens woven together with spider webs. Rufous Hummingbirds usually lay two eggs about 1.3 cm (1/2 in) in size. The eggs take anywhere from 12 to 14 days to hatch, and the young leave the nest about 1 week after hatching. The female fiercely defends her nest from predators, while the male plays no role in defending or raising the young. (Johnsgard 1983; Toops 1992; Chloe 1999). (Chloe, 1999; Johnsgard, 1983; Toops, 1992)

  • Average eggs per season
  • Range time to hatching
    12 to 14 days
  • Average fledging age
    7 days



The Rufous Hummingbird does not socialize with other member of its species. The male rufous usually establishes its own territory and defends it fiercely for nectar. The male also defends its territory for the purpose of mating. It will dive, chase and kick with its claws to drive its opponent away. The fight usually occurs in midair. When they grasp each other with their claws and wings, they tumble and fall to the ground struggling to get free.

Rufous Hummingbirds are known to travel over 8000 km. (5000 miles) during its yearly migration. The rufous takes in a lot of oxygen when it flies. When hovering, it uses seven times more oxygen than when quietly resting. It has a heart rate of 480 beats per minute when resting, and can increase to 1,260 beats per minute when excited.

The rufous grooms itself by using its bill and claws. It uses oil from a gland at the base of its tail to clean and waterproof its feathers. It sunbathes by lifting its chest out to the sun and fluffing out its feathers. The rufous bathes itself on a cupped leaf or a shallow pool. It sleeps with its bill pointed upward, its neck retracted, and feathers fluffed. Predators of the rufous includes tiny hawks, merlins, owls and weasels. Some invertebrates,like spiders, occasionally prey on the rufous (Holmgren 1986; Sayre 1999; Gates 2000).

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

The Rufous Hummingbird consumes flies, ants, small beetles, tiny wasps and other small insects for a source of protein. Nectar is its most important food source for energy. It also drinks sap from the holes made by the Red-naped Sapsuckers for an extra food source. It feeds on nectar from several different flowering plants, such as honeysuckle, scarlet sage, horsemint, and black locust. This hummingbird is attracted to red and tubular flowers, preferring flowers that are spread farther apart giving it needed space for the beat of its wings. It eats about 1/2 to about 3 times its body weight. The Rufous Hummingbird feeds on nectar a minimum of sixty times a day. It consumes numerous small meals instead of a few big meals. It consumes nectar from flowering plants with its fork-like tongue at 13 licks per second ( Johnsgard 1983; Toops 1992; Chloe 1999; Sayre 1999; Gates and Gates 2000).

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Rufous Hummingbirds play an important role in pollinating at least 129 plant species (Paige et al. 1999).

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative


Conservation Status

This widespread, abundant species is in no immediate danger of extinction. It is, like all hummingbirds, protected by the U.S. Migratory Bird Act and in CITES Appendix II.

Other Comments

The Rufous Hummingbird typically flaps its wings 50 times per second, and when it dives to mate, it can flap its wings 200 times per second (Toops 1992; Chloe 1999).


Bao Kong (author), Fresno City College, Carl Johansson (editor), Fresno City College.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


Found in coastal areas between 30 and 40 degrees latitude, in areas with a Mediterranean climate. Vegetation is dominated by stands of dense, spiny shrubs with tough (hard or waxy) evergreen leaves. May be maintained by periodic fire. In South America it includes the scrub ecotone between forest and paramo.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.


This terrestrial biome includes summits of high mountains, either without vegetation or covered by low, tundra-like vegetation.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


uses touch to communicate

tropical savanna and grassland

A terrestrial biome. Savannas are grasslands with scattered individual trees that do not form a closed canopy. Extensive savannas are found in parts of subtropical and tropical Africa and South America, and in Australia.


A grassland with scattered trees or scattered clumps of trees, a type of community intermediate between grassland and forest. See also Tropical savanna and grassland biome.

temperate grassland

A terrestrial biome found in temperate latitudes (>23.5° N or S latitude). Vegetation is made up mostly of grasses, the height and species diversity of which depend largely on the amount of moisture available. Fire and grazing are important in the long-term maintenance of grasslands.


uses sight to communicate


Chloe, 1999. "Hummingbirds" (On-line). Accessed August 12, 2000 at

Gates, L., T. Gates. 2000. "Hummingbird behavior" (On-line). Accessed October 20, 2000 at

Holmgren, V. 1986. The way of the hummingbird:In legend, history and today's gardens. Santa Barbara, Ca: Capra Press.

Johnsgard, P. 1983. The hummingbirds of North America. Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Paige, C., M. Koenen, D. Mehlman. 1999. "Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus)" (On-line). Accessed October 23, 2000 at

Sayre, J. 1999. Hummingbirds: The sun catchers. Minnetonka, MN: Northword Press.

Toops, C. 1992. Hummingbirds: Jewels in Flight. Stillwater, MN: Voyageur Press, Inc.