For the Birds: The Rufus are coming, the Rufus are coming

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Adult Rufus male
Photo by Doug Parrott

By Christine Southwick

Have you seen a small feisty reddish-orange hummingbird hovering at newly opened flowering-current or salmonberry flowers? The male Rufus Hummingbird is the only North American hummingbird with a rufus-colored back.

The female Rufus Hummingbird can easily be mistaken for the female Anna’s Hummingbird until you look more closely. Look for a white breast and what to me looks like a white necklace.  If the female has that,then it is a Rufus. Female Rufus also have that pretty rufus on their flanks and tails.   The Anna’s female has a grayish breast and neck. Most female Rufus have a few reddish throat feathers, but some older female Anna’s do too.

Male and female Rufus are the same size, which is smaller than Anna’s, but size can be hard to judge if they are hovering.

Female Rufus on nest
Photo by Doug Parrott

While Anna’s have become year-round residents in Puget Sound, the majority of Rufus migrate from as far away as Mexico or Texas, follow the California coast northward, and breed as far north as central Alaska, making them the most northern breeding hummingbird in the world.

While there are a few reports of Rufus claiming a local feeder year round, most people can expect to see a male or two passing through in late February, followed by the females about two weeks later (this year some females were seen before the males). The Rufus basically follow the blooming of salmonberry and flowering currant. While Rufus do eat insects, their consumption is nowhere as high as those insectivorous Anna’s.

In late June-to-July, you may start seeing a belligerent male Rufus making his way back south, chasing all hummers from your feeders and snowberry flowers. Often in July through mid-September you will see female and juvenile Rufus in your yard, stoking up for their southern migration.

Juvenile male Rufus in August
Photo by Christine Southwick

There are a few Rufus who might actually breed in this area rather than continuing North, if they have found really good habitat.  Wherever they breed, the female makes her nest out of moss and spider webbing so that the nest will expand after the two eggs hatch and the nestlings start needing more room.

No one knows why yet, but there appears to be a rapid decline in the Rufus population since 1981, and the species is now listed as a “species-at-risk” on both the Partners in Flight and the Audubon-Washington lists.


Unknown March 19, 2015 at 7:47 AM  

Great photos and article! Thanks.

Unknown April 1, 2015 at 3:26 AM  

My hubby & I have had the great privilege to watch a mom lay 2 eggs, feed & care for them since mid February. We expect they'll be gone soon, I see them trying out their wings. She put her nest on top of our wind chime in our patio!

Unknown April 1, 2015 at 3:32 AM  

Hubby & I have had the great privilege to watch a female hummingbird lay 2 eggs & care & feed the babies since mid February. I've watched them recently start to try out their wings. Every day is a blessing to watch them grow! We expect they'll be gone soon. She put her nest on top on our wind chime on our patio. The two of them hardly fit in the nest anymore!

Unknown April 3, 2015 at 8:40 AM  

I throughly enjoyed your Rufus video. Thank you for that intimate footage. Sandra

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