11 Intriguing Facts About The Rufous Hummingbird


The rufous hummingbird is a delightfully intriguing little hummingbird. 

Named for its brilliant flame-like coloring, this bird is ready for a fight. As one of the most aggressive hummingbirds, they chase off other creatures. This is to claim dominance over nectar-rich sources and territories.

These birds also have one of the longest migration paths and go farther north than other hummingbirds. They can interbreed with other hummingbirds as well.

Check out these intriguing facts and more by reading below.

1. Rufous Hummingbirds Are Ready For A Fight

Rufous hummingbirds are considered one of the feistiest and most aggressive hummingbirds. They defend their territory and show aggressiveness at food sources. 

To fight they will dive at other hummingbirds, bees, wasps, and even chipmunks. They make a fast sequence of warning chirps before attacking. 

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They raise or flare their feathers, spreading their wings wide to give the impression that they are bigger and ready to battle. Rufous hummingbirds can dart in and out of places with skill and speed, giving them the ability to surprise attack. 

Often, rufous hummingbirds are the champions, even against hummingbirds twice their size.

As is true with many birds, rufous hummingbirds defend their territories and nest sites.

However, these small birds are also aggressive because they need a high level of energy from food sources. This is necessary for their long migratory journeys. 

2. They Visit Hummingbird Feeders

Rufous hummingbirds visit hummingbird feeders in people’s backyards. They also like to drink nectar from tubular plants such as penstemon, scarlet sage, paintbrush, and red columbine.

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Due to their long migratory paths, they do not stay for long, feeding for 1 or 2 weeks. However, during this time, it is likely they will be chasing other nectar-feeding birds and insects away.

Even though the rufous hummingbird drinks primarily nectar, they will also feed on tiny insects. These sources such as gnats, midges, and aphids, provide protein and fat. They can catch insects on the wing (mid-air).

3. Rufous Hummingbirds Return To Look For Last Year’s Nectar

Rufous hummingbirds can remember where last year’s food was located. 

They revisit hummingbird feeders or areas with an abundance of tubular flowers. These birds need to eat almost continuously, consuming up to 3 times their body weight daily. 

They return to areas of food sources each year as they migrate because they need reliable sources of high-energy food.

4. They Breed Farther North Than Other Hummingbirds

The rufous hummingbird is wide-ranging.

They are found in California, throughout the Pacific Northwest, amongst the Rocky Mountains, and up to Alaska. Mountain meadows offer them an ample supply of nectar-filled flowers.

They typically breed in open areas as well as forests extending to far northern southeastern Alaska.

5. They Tolerate Cold Temperatures

The rufous hummingbird can better tolerate colder temperatures and mild freezing. This is unlike many other hummingbird species that are sensitive to extremely cold temperatures. 

Therefore, this hummingbird can migrate into areas where it drops below 0°F. They go into a state of torpor at night. This slows down their metabolic rate allowing them to conserve energy.

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6. Rufous Hummingbirds Interbreed With Other Hummingbird Species 

Rufous hummingbirds have been found to interbreed with Allen’s hummingbirds to make a hybrid species. This typically occurs when they have overlapping habitats, found from Northern California to Southern Oregon.

The males court females by diving in a way that looks like it is sky-writing the letter “J” while showing off its colorful display of feathers.

7. They Are Not Monogamous

These hummingbirds are not monogamous. Males will mate with as many females as possible during the breeding season.

Since these birds are not social, and more aggressive, their breeding interactions are short.

Females build cup-nests for a brood of 2 or 3 eggs without the help of the male. They begin nesting within 3 days after breeding and incubate the eggs for 15 to 17 days.

8. Rufous Hummingbirds Travel Much Farther Than Many Other Birds

Since rufous hummingbirds have a wide range, extending up to the far north, they also have one of the longest migratory paths. 

They travel much farther than other birds, which is a considerable feat due to their small 3-inch size. A 1-way trip is nearly 4,000 miles. 

Their path is a clockwise circuit through western North America, up the Pacific Coast, and down the Rocky Mountains.

9. They Have A Fast Wingbeat

To hover, dart, and migrate quickly, the rufous hummingbird has a fast wingbeat. Their wings beat 52 to 62 beats per second. 

This is another reason why rufous hummingbirds need to eat so much to maintain energy.

10. Rufous Hummingbirds Are Named After Their Color

Rufous means reddish-brown color, giving these birds their name. 

Males are vibrant with glowing flame-like orange feathers and an iridescent red-orange throat. They may have a bit of green on their backs or heads.

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Females are green with rufous-colored flanks, and an orange spot on the throat. Their coloring makes them often mistaken for Allen’s Hummingbirds.

Check out this video to see these brilliant colors that appear to change as the bird moves:

11. They Have Short Features

Rufous hummingbirds have slender, tapered bills, and short wings. Their wings do not reach the end of their tail when in perched positions.

Overall, they range in size from 2.8 to 3.5 inches long, with a short wingspan of 4.3 inches. They only weigh 0.1 to 0.2 ounces.


Rufous hummingbirds are unique little birds. 

They travel record distances and breed farther north than other hummingbirds. These feisty birds are not social, ready to dive bomb and threaten other creatures such as other birds, wasps, bees, and even chipmunks. 

These facts and more, make the rufous hummingbird an intriguing species to explore.

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James Goodman

James is a native Texan with a love for birding and outdoor adventures. When he's not birdwatching, you can find him hiking, camping or playing the piano.

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