Rufous-tailed hummingbirds live primarily in central-east, possibly northeast Mexico to central Panama. The northernmost populations most likely migrate to the Pacific and Caribbean coast of Mexico for the winter months (Guerrero and Yucatan). The migratory patterns of rufous-tailed hummingbirds in other parts of Central America are unknown. However, seasonal movements occur from Colombia through Ecuador. Also, several individuals of this species have been recorded in southern Texas in the summer and autumn. (del Hoyo, et al., 1999)
Rufous-tailed hummingbirds are found primarily on the edges of humid evergreen forest, banana or coffee plantations, human habitations, and clearings. These birds are not usually found inside the dense forest but often in second growth and semi-open areas. These thicket-rich regions are found in South America and are in gallery forest and montane zones. The elevation at which these birds occur vares from region to region. Their altitudinal distribution is correlated with the flowering periods of food plants. In Costa Rica and Panama through the subtropical belt, rufous-tailed hummingbirds are found in lower montane zones, from sea-level up to 1200 m. In Colombia and the islands of Panama their habitat consists of primary forest as well as bushy coastal habitats, even beaches. In the Andes, the hummingbirds can be found up to 2500 m, occasionally even higher. Some races in southwest Colombia range from the lowlands into the subtropical zone with wet, open forest up to 2500 m. (del Hoyo, et al., 1999; Jackson, et al., 2002)
- Aquatic Biomes
- Range elevation
- 0 to 2500 m
- 0.00 to 8202.10 ft
Males and female the rufous-tailed hummingbirds differ slightly in physical appearance. The males are larger, weighing 5.5 g. Male rufous-tailed hummingbirds also have longer bodies. The maximum length of a male rufous-tailed hummingbird is about 11 cm. They have a straight bill, which is medium sized, fleshy red with a dark tip, and an upper mandible that is blackish. The upper parts of the male's body, the flanks and belly, are golden green to bronze-green. The throat is a glittering golden green and sometimes has a turquoise gleam in certain light. The belly is ashy gray to grayish-brown. The tail has traces of bronze-green and copper.
Female rufous-tailed hummingbirds are smaller than the males and have slightly different coloration. Females have a mass of around 5.2 g and their body length is usually about 8 cm. There is a grayish sub-terminal bar on the throat feathers and they have a white belly.
Immature rufous-tailed hummingbirds are darker and grayish towards the belly. The feather-edgings on the face and crown often have a bronzy edge. The upper mandible of younger individuals is often black.
The hummingbirds do differ from race to race. The handleyi race is larger and heavier than the average rufous-tailed hummingbird. It is also a slightly darker bronze-green. The fuscicaudata race is smaller than an average rufous-tailed hummingbird. The jucunda race has a longer bill in relation to its size with narrow margins in the outer rectrices.
Hummingbirds have one of the highest basal metabolic rates of any birds due to their very small size, their type of flight, and the amount energy needed to sustain their flight. The average hummingbird metabolic rate is 1600Kcal/kg/day. (Ritchison, 2003)
- Sexual Dimorphism
- male larger
- sexes colored or patterned differently
- male more colorful
- Range mass
- 5.2 to 5.5 g
- 0.18 to 0.19 oz
- Range length
- 8 to 11 cm
- 3.15 to 4.33 in
- Range wingspan
- 2 to 2.4 cm
- 0.79 to 0.94 in
Rufous-tailed hummingbirds may nest in loose colonies. They have been observed stealing nest materials from their neighbors. (del Hoyo, et al., 1999)
Rufous-tailed hummingbirds are polygynous. Hummingbirds only have contact with the opposite sex for a few moments during fertilization. Males are very territorial and often claim an area of flowers as their own during mating season. (Baker, 2003)
- Mating System
Breeding occurs at different times of the year throughout their range. In the northern parts of Central America, nesting can occur from December through September. In Mexico, breeding season is from March through August. In Costa Rica, breeding is guided by the dry season and peaks in January through May. Along the Pacific slope, breeding occurs from May through November. Along the Caribbean slope breeding occurs in October through January. Breeding in South America and Panama occurs in January through April.
Nesting is fairly specialized for rufous-tailed hummingbirds. Their favorite sites to build nests are on horizontal branches in smaller trees and shrubs. The nests are usually 2 to 5 meters off the ground. Sometimes the nests are built in the fork of a branch.
Materials used for nest construction include plant down, yellowish-brown to grayish-brown fibers, cobwebs and pieces of dead leaves. The exterior of their nest is decorated heavily with bits of lichen and sometimes moss. These materials are usually formed into a compact cup nest. If a nest is destroyed or lost, construction of a new nest may start within a week. (del Hoyo, et al., 1999; Stiles and Skutch, 1989)
Females usually lay two eggs per clutch. Incubation lasts 15 to 16 days. Young leave the nest when they are between 18 and 22 days old. Young rufous-tailed hummingbirds are fed by the female for 58 days. (Skutch, 1976)
- Key Reproductive Features
- seasonal breeding
- gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
- Breeding season
- Breeding season varies depending on region.
- Average eggs per season
- Range time to hatching
- 15 to 16 days
- Range fledging age
- 18 to 22 days
- Average time to independence
- 58 days
Incubation lasts 15 to 16 days and is only done by the female. Young leave the nest when they are between 18 and 22 days old. Once hummingbirds fledge, they wait for their parents in a distinct spot that is usually not far from the nest. They do not follow their parents around as they forage, but rather wait to recieve food. Once the female fills her crop with nectar, small insects and spiders she returns to feed her young. The young rufous-tailed hummingbirds are fed this way for 58 days. Males do not provide any parental care. (del Hoyo, et al., 1999; Skutch, 1976)
- Parental Investment
- no parental involvement
Although there is little research on the lifespans of hummingbirds, researchers estimate an average hummingbird lives 3 to 5 years. The longest recorded living female was a broad-tailed hummingbird, found in Colorado at age 12. In captivity, they can survive about 10 years. ("All About Hummingbirds", 2002; "About Hummingbirds", Date Unknown)
These birds can be highly aggressive and territorial at rich clumps of flowers. Intruders such as larger hummingbirds, butterflies, and euglossine bees are sometimes attacked with a diving flight. (Jackson, et al., 2002; Stiles and Skutch, 1989)
Rufous-tailed hummingbirds may form very loose nesting colonies. They are generally more sedentary in humid regions and are diurnal or crepuscular, depending on the region. (del Hoyo, et al., 1999)
Rufous-tailed hummingbirds (along with many other hummingbird species) have such high metabolic rates that they often go into torpor during the night to conserve energy. (Baker, 2003)
Hummingbirds have a unique form of flight that is somewhat insect like. The speed of a hummingbird's flight depends on the size of the bird. The average number of wing flaps is around 53 per second in normal flight. They are able to fly in all directions including forward, side to side, and even backwards. They are able to accomplish this through their highly modified and muscular bodies. Also they are able to control the angle between their body axis and the axis of wing rotation. They also have a very unique ability to hover. ("Frequently Asked Questions", Date Unknown)
- Key Behaviors
- daily torpor
We do not have information on home range for this species at this time.
Communication and Perception
Rufous-tailed hummingbirds have a distinctive call. It is a low pitched chup or chut sometimes done in a sputtering series. The notes sung include one or more shrill notes that rise and accelerate. The male hummingbird's song is whistled in a deliberate rhythm. For example: tse we ts we or tse tseu wip tsik tsew, followed by a pause. Males sing most during the early morning from dawn to sunrise. They sing on scattered perches near flowers or in small loosly assembled groups near flowers. (Stiles and Skutch, 1989)
The male hummingbirds use song to claim their territories. If another male attempts to enter, usually a loud chatter will be sung by the territory owner. Intruders such as larger hummingbirds, butterflies, and euglossine bees are sometimes attacked with a diving flight. (Gates and Gates, 2003)
- Other Communication Modes
Rufous-tailed hummingbirds feed on nectar and arthropods. Hummingbirds extract nectar from plants with their hollow, extensile tongues that are forked at the tip. They feed on a wide variety of plants including Antigonon, Callistrimon, Clitoria, Cosus, Isteria, Hamelia, Heliconia, Stachytarpheta, Tabebuia and Lantana. They also feed on a number cultivated tree species, especially banana and coffee trees. They feed on small insects and spiders by taking them from leaves and branches, a method called gleaning. They are very territorial when feeding, and intruders are attacked with diving flights. (Baker, 2003; del Hoyo, et al., 1999)
Due to their high metabolic rates, hummingbirds require a large amount of food in order to survive. They may need to eat several times their body weight in nectar in one day. ("Hummingbird", 2001; Baker, 2003)
- Primary Diet
- Animal Foods
- terrestrial non-insect arthropods
- Plant Foods
The main cause of mortality for hummingbirds is predation of eggs and chicks in the nest. Predation on adult hummingbirds is uncommon. This is due to the agility hummingbirds possess in flight. Some known predators of hummingbird eggs, chicks and adults include: domestic cats (Felis silvestris), small hawks (family Accipitridae), small owls (order Strigiformes), shrikes (family Laniidae), roadrunners (genus Geococcyx), orioles (family Icteridae), western tanagers (Piranga ludoviciana), grackles (Quiscalus mexicanus), gulls (family Laridae), largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides), frogs (order Anura) and mantids (family Mantidae). ("About Hummingbirds", Date Unknown; "Frequently Asked Questions", Date Unknown)
- Known Predators
- domestic cats (Felis silvestris)
- small hawks (Accipitridae)
- small owls (Strigiformes)
- shrikes (Laniidae)
- roadrunners (Geococcyx)
- orioles (Icteridae)
- western tanagers (Piranga ludoviciana)
- great-tailed grackles (Quiscalus mexicanus)
- gulls (Laridae)
- largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides)
- frogs ( Anura)
- mantids ( Mantidae)
There has been co-evolution between hummingbirds and the flowers they feed upon. Hummingbird flowers have very distinct characteristics that serve to attract hummingbirds. They also have other characteristics to insure that pollination occurs. Many flowers are specially adapted to allow pollen to be deposited on hummingbirds in such a way that the pollen will reach another flower. This is a critical step in the process of plant reproduction. Hummingbird beaks are also specially adapted to feed from hummingbird flowers.
The specific plants that rufous-tailed hummingbirds obtain nectar from would not be able to survive without the birds to pollinate them. Some examples of plants pollinated by rufous-tailed hummingbirds include: Antigonon, Clitoria, Hamelia, Heliconia, Stachytarpheta and Tabebuia. (Grant and Grant, 1968)
- Ecosystem Impact
Economic Importance for Humans: Positive
Hummingbirds are important to humans because of their role in pollination. Rufous-tailed hummingbirds often pollinate important crops such as banana and coffee. Also, since these birds eat insects, they can play a very active role in pest control. They are also important in ecotourism and are popular amoung birdwatchers. (del Hoyo, et al., 1999; Grant and Grant, 1968)
- Positive Impacts
- pollinates crops
- controls pest population
Economic Importance for Humans: Negative
There are no known adverse affects of rufous-tailed hummingbirds on humans.
Rufous-tailed hummingbirds are common or very common in most of their range. The birds have been able to adapt to man-made habitats and are therefore found around agricultural, suburban and urban areas. They are listed as Appendix II by CITES. (del Hoyo, et al., 1999)
Alaine Camfield (editor), Animal Diversity Web.
Holly Borchardt (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Phil Myers (editor), Museum of Zoology, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.
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.
living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.
uses sound to communicate
living in landscapes dominated by human agriculture.
young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.
- 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
to jointly display, usually with sounds, at the same time as two or more other individuals of the same or different species
the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.
used loosely to describe any group of organisms living together or in close proximity to each other - for example nesting shorebirds that live in large colonies. More specifically refers to a group of organisms in which members act as specialized subunits (a continuous, modular society) - as in clonal organisms.
active at dawn and dusk
- active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.
humans benefit economically by promoting tourism that focuses on the appreciation of natural areas or animals. Ecotourism implies that there are existing programs that profit from the appreciation of natural areas or animals.
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.
union of egg and spermatozoan
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).
makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds
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.
an animal that mainly eats all kinds of things, including plants and animals
reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.
having more than one female as a mate at one time
rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Epiphytes and climbing plants are also abundant. Precipitation is typically not limiting, but may be somewhat seasonal.
- seasonal breeding
breeding is confined to a particular season
remains in the same area
reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female
living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.
uses touch to communicate
that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).
Living on the ground.
defends an area within the home range, occupied by a single animals or group of animals of the same species and held through overt defense, display, or advertisement
the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.
living in cities and large towns, landscapes dominated by human structures and activity.
uses sight to communicate
Hummingbirds.net. Date Unknown. "About Hummingbirds" (On-line). Accessed April 05, 2004 at http://www.hummingbirds.net/about.html#heartbeat.
Birds-n-gardens.com. 2002. "All About Hummingbirds" (On-line). Accessed April 05, 2004 at http://www.birds-n-garden.com/hummingbirds.html.
The Hummingbird Society. Date Unknown. "Frequently Asked Questions" (On-line). Accessed April 05, 2004 at http://www.hummingbird.org/faq.htm.
Annenberg/CPB. 2001. "Hummingbird" (On-line). Fun Facts About Hummingbirds. Accessed April 05, 2004 at http://www.learner.org/jnorth/tm/humm/funfacts.html.
Baker, C. 2003. "Costa Rica, Birds" (On-line). Accessed April 05, 2004 at http://www.photo.net/cr/moon/birds.html.
Gates, L., T. Gates. 2003. "Hummingbird Behavior" (On-line). Accessed April 05, 2004 at http://www.portalproductions.com/h/behavior.htm.
Grant, K., V. Grant. 1968. Hummingbirds and Their Flowers. New York: Columbia University Press.
Jackson, J., W. Bock, M. Hutchins, D. Olendorf. 2002. Rufous-tailed Hummingbird. Pp. 465 in Grzimek's Animal Life Encyclopedia, Vol. 8-11, 2nd Edition. Farmington Hills, MI: Gale Group.
Ridgway, R. 1892. The Humming Birds. Washington: Government Printing Office.
Ritchison, G. 2003. "Avian Energy Balance & Thermoregulation" (On-line). Accessed April 05, 2004 at http://www.biology.eku.edu/RITCHISO/ornitholsyl.htm.
Skutch, A. 1976. Parent Birds and Their Young. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press.
Stiles, G., A. Skutch. 1989. A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica. Ithica, New York: Cornstock Publishing Associates.
del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott, J. Sargatal. 1999. Handbook of the Birds of the World vol. 5. Barcelona, Spain: Lynx Edicions.