U S Fish and Wildlife Service


Past Featured Pollinators:
  Allen's Hummingbird
  Buff-bellied Hummingbird
  Calliope Hummingbird
  Costa's Hummingbird
  Crested Honeycreepers
  Dakota Skipper
  El Segundo blue butterfly
  Karner blue butterfly
  Lesser long-nosed bat

Mexican long-nosed bat

  Mitchell’s Satyr
  Monarch Butterfly
  Rufous Hummingbird
  Rusty patched bumble bee
  Taylor's checkerspot butterfly
More Pollinators:
  Fringed Orchids and Hawkmoths


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Featured Pollinator

Male Rufous Hummingbird feeding on flower. Credit: Dean E. Biggins, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
  Male Rufous Hummingbird. Credit: Dean E. Biggins/ U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Rufous Hummingbirds (Selasphorus rufus) are amazing because of the great distance they migrate from their wintering grounds in Mexico and the southern United States to their breeding grounds in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, western Canada, and southern Alaska.  In addition, they breed further north than any other hummingbird.

In order to make its marathon journey from breeding to wintering grounds and back, this bird makes great use of a variety of food sources.  As with its other hummingbird relatives, nectar from flowering plants makes up a large part of the diet.  Small insects are also eaten, found either on the wing or through aerial foraging.  When nectar is scarce, the Rufous Hummingbird will also make use of wells drilled in trees by sapsuckers.  They’re also quite territorial, and will defend their flower patches from other birds.

Rufous Hummingbird Range map showing wintering habitat in California and Mexico and Summer range in northwest U.S. and Canada. Credit: National Park Service, North Coast and Cascades Research Learning Network.
Rufous Hummingbird summer (breeding) and wintering ranges. Credit: National Park Service, North Coast and Cascades Research Learning Network.

The enormous migration route of the Rufous hummingbird is important for two reasons.  The lengthy circular migration route, which occurs primarily to the west of the Rocky Mountains in the spring and through the Rocky Mountains in the fall, makes the species unique and important for study.  And, this small bird plays an important role in plant reproduction by moving pollen from plant to plant on its winter grounds, breeding grounds, and any area over which it migrates. From Alaska to Mexico and throughout the western United States, the Rufous Hummingbird drinks nectar and pollinates flowers year-round throughout the thousands of miles of habitat that it visits annually.

After arriving on its breeding grounds, the male will perform a few displays of flying talent before copulating with the female.  The female will build the nest, lay and incubate the eggs, and then feed the young once they hatch.  While helpless when born, the young will be flying within 15 days, and preening within 19 days.  Once they have left the nest, the young will not return to roost at the nest, but they will choose a perch nearby and be fed from there by their mother.

While the Rufous Hummingbird gets its name from its distinctive color, it is by no means monochromatic.  The male has an especially striking throat patch which may appear golden-bronze or green.  Both males and females have a white spot behind their eye, and a mix of black and green feathers in addition to their mostly rufous coloration.  Although it is a medium sized hummingbird, the Rufous Hummingbird is tiny when compared to most other birds, weighing in at only 3.4g, approximately the weight of one and a half pennies.

Citation: Healy, S. and W.A. Calder (2006). Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus). In The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology; Retrieved from The Birds of North American Online database: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/BNA/account/Rufous_Hummingbird/.

Last Updated: June 17, 2019