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Bird Bio: Rufous Hummingbird

Lauren Kemple, Education Specialist (AmeriCorps)

Rufous Hummingbird

First you hear the high-pitched hum of his two inch wings, flapping 52 to 62 times per second. Then he zips past, a streak of bronze and green, tzzew zupity tzupity tzuping at another bird in aggressive defense of his territory. During the breeding season, this male Rufous Hummingbird will perform elaborate J-shaped diving displays to attract females.Often times indistinguishable from Allen’s Hummingbird, Rufous Hummingbirds tend to have more rufous-colored backs, though up to five percent of them are mostly green. Females have greener backs than males with rufous at the base of their tails.

This “extremist” hummingbird migrates the farther north than any other hummingbirds in its family. Its journey is, relative to its body length, the longest known avian migration in the world! They spend the winters as far south as southern Mexico and breed throughout the Pacific Northwest, into Alaska. Spring migration seems to be timed to follow the blooming of flowers, leading them through California in March and April, north to their breeding grounds by mid-spring.

Considered a valuable indicator species, the Rufous Hummingbird is viewed as a gauge of environmental health by researchers. Highly associated with western shrublands, they are also found in coniferous forests and riparian areas. Recent studies have shown a positive association with young broadleaf forests. Population trends for these birds are of high concern, with nearly a four percent reduction per year for the past 42 years.

According to Partners in Flight North American Landbird Conservation Plan, the Rufous Hummingbird is of particular concern due tovulnerability from a limited non-breeding distribution as well as a limited breeding distribution. The continental objective calls for an emphasis to increase this
population by 100%.

Along with Partners in Flight, the Western Hummingbird Project addresses hummingbird conservation issues in North America through habitat restoration and enhancement, monitoring, research, and education and outreach. KBO contributes to this project through collaboration with the US Forest Service Wings Across the Americas Program, the Hummingbird Monitoring Network, and many partners.


Partners in Flight North American Landbird Conservation Plan, 2004, by Terrill Rich et al.; The Birds of North America, first edition 2005, edited by Dr. Alan Poole and Dr. Frank Gill.

This article appears in KBO’s Spring 2009 newsletter.