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Photo by Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.
This species was on the 2002 WatchList, but is not on the 2007 WatchList. Please refer to http://web1.audubon.org/science/species/watchlist/techReport.php for information on the 2007 WatchList.
This brightly colored hummingbird has the longest known avian migration proportional to its body size, and puts over 1500 km between its wintering and breeding grounds. Having the northernmost range of any hummingbird, this species is faced with a short breeding season, but Alaskan populations experience the longest day-length of any hummingbird. Like many species of pollinators, Rufous Hummingbirds have experienced long-term declines across their range though the reasons for these declines are not well understood.
Nearly identical to Allen's Hummingbird. Male is mostly rufous with a white breast, black tips on the tail feathers, and a bright orange-red throat patch (known as a "gorget"). In rare cases, adult males have varying degrees of green on their backs that can be confused with the orange-backed forms of the Allen's. A metallic whine is emitted from the male's wings when in flight. Adult females and juveniles have a green iridescent back, less red on their underparts than males, and a white throat, with or without red or green spots or streaks. Rufous can be seen at the base of the tail in adult females. Females will rarely have a red central throat patch similar to the gorget of adult males. A notch on the tip of the second tail feather is a nearly diagnostic mark for Rufous Hummingbirds. Range also helps identify Rufous Hummingbird as they occur farther north and east than the Allen's Hummingbird.
Rufous Hummingbird is among the hummingbirds that can be identified by the aerial display of males in courtship. The Rufous Hummingbird makes a series of steep, J-shaped dives that end at the same point, but begin at points progressing around a circle. The descents are rapid and the upward movements that connect the bottom of the J to the starting points around the circle are slow. During descent, the male emits a stuttering dit-dit-dit-deeer sound, similar but of lower pitch than the Allen's.
Rufous Hummingbirds have the northernmost range of any hummingbird species. They breed from the northern California north and east through Idaho, Oregon, Washington, and Montana, and north through British Columbia and Alberta to southern Alaska and Yukon. Their 1500 plus km migration takes them to southern California, southern Texas and east along the Gulf Coast to western Florida in the United States. The wintering range extends south through much of Mexico, including Baja California, central Mexico, and along the coasts. Patzcuaro and Reserva de la Biosfera Sierra Gorda are two Mexican IBAs that support the Rufous Hummingbird on its wintering range.
The Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) showed that the species had a significant decline of -2.7% per year from 1966-2001 across its range.
Arriving at their breeding grounds anywhere from March to May, the Rufous Hummingbird inhabits areas undergoing secondary succession aged 16-120 years and mature forests over 120 years old. This can include openings, forests, and brushy habitats. Departing in July and traveling south through August and into September, they take advantage of the montane meadows and disturbed areas where flowers are abundant. In the winter, this species inhabits oak forests with pines and junipers, shrubby habitats, along roadsides, and disturbed areas in oak forests. This species may begin moving northward again as early as January.
Nests hidden in layers of shrub or drooping branches of oaks and conifers. Has been reported to nest in colonies (up to 20 nests within a few yards of each other). Two small white eggs are laid in the softly lined cup nests for an incubation period of 15-17 days. Their short northern breeding season is compensated by longer day-length.
Rufous Hummingbirds consume floral nectar and small insects. Insects such as gnats, midges, and whiteflies are captured in mid-air and by foraging. This species role as a pollinator during migration is thought to have influenced the speciation of flowers in California.
Many species of pollinators have shown decreases across the continent. Little information is available on the overall issues that are causing these declines but potential threats include habitat loss, increased use of pesticides, and replacement of native plants by invasive plants. The species restricted wintering range in Mexico makes it more susceptible to natural disasters, diseases, or changes in land use.
Partners in Pollination/Alainza para Polinizacion, a consortium of non-profit organizations, universities, and businesses, was formed in 1995 to increase awareness of the importance of pollinators to ecosystems, encourage research and conservation on plant/pollinator interactions, and influence policy related to plant/pollinator conservation.
The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum's Migratory Pollinators and Their Corridors project is working to educate, develop community stewardship, and conservation actions for plant/pollinator systems in the U.S. and Mexico (http://www.desertmuseum.org/conservation/mp/polpart.html).
What Can You Do?
Information on where Rufous Hummingbirds occur and in what numbers is vital to conserving the species. Help in monitoring this and other species by reporting your sightings to eBird. A project of Audubon and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, eBird is the world's first comprehensive on-line bird monitoring program: http://www.audubon.org/bird/ebird/index.html.
Volunteers are also crucial to the success of long-term monitoring programs such as the Breeding Bird Survey. The BBS helps determine the distribution of species such as the Rufous Hummingbird and monitors population trends. To find out how you can get involved, visit: http://www.mp2-pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs/participate/.
If you live in the southwestern United States or western Mexico, and would like to contribute to our knowledge of this species, the Migratory Pollinators and their Corridors: Conservation Across Borders, a project of the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, has an online data entry form specifically for the Rufous Hummingbird. This is a five-year effort to monitor White-winged Doves, Lesser Long-nosed Bats, Rufous Hummingbirds, and Monarch Butterflies, four major pollinators of western Mexico and southwestern United States. For more information, please visit: http://www.desertmuseum.org/conservation/mp/index.html.
The Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory has a hummingbird banding station on the San Pedro River. Their website not only provides information about hummingbirds, but the station also offers hummingbird workshops for visitors, including one on hummingbird banding and one on hummingbird identification. For more information, visit: http://www.sabo.org/hummers.htm.
Calder, W. A. 1993. Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus). In The Birds of North America, No. 53 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). Philadelphia: The Academy of Natural Sciences; Washington, D.C.: The American Ornithologists' Union.
Sibley, D. A. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. National Audubon Society. New York: Chanticleer Press, Inc.