Rufous Hummingbird – An Orange Fiesty Vagrant

rufous hummingbird female
The rufous hummingbird is one of the most fiercely aggressive hummingbirds out there. It's known for its' territorial behavior and the ability to travel long distances. The adult Rufous hummingbird is bright orange to amber color, while Rufous hummingbird female is duller in color.

This hummingbird is migratory and if you’re lucky to see it in your yard, treat it with some nectar from your feeder and tubular flowers. Just don’t be surprised if it chases away other hummingbirds.

Typical rufous hummingbird female with spots on their throats
Typical rufous hummingbird female with spots on their throats

Identification of the Rufous Hummingbird Female

Adult female Rufous hummingbird lacks the copper color of males. Instead, females have greenish backs with dark wings and orange flanks. Their head is mostly brownish, and their tails are dark with some white tips. Instead of a red gorget, females have spots on their throats.

Are Female Rufous Hummingbirds Territorial?

Both female and male Rufous hummers are super territorial and mean. Females are especially aggressive around their nests and young and will chase away larger birds and other predators. Some say they saw Rufous females fighting off chipmunks to protect their nest.

male rufous hummingbird with bright orange gorget
male rufous hummingbird with bright orange gorget

Identification of the Rufous Hummingbird male

Adult male Rufous hummingbirds are bright orange on their backs and darker wings, with white bellies and vivid orange gorget. They have dark, almost black bills and broad outer tail feathers. Males are the ones that make the courtship dives to impress the females and initiate mating.

Immature males have coppery washed sides and a bit of orange on their throats. Additionally, this is the only one of the North American hummingbirds that have this kind of back.

Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus Rufus) Basics

The conservation status of the Rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus Rufus) is the least concerning, with about 19 million birds in existence. Rufous hummingbirds are widespread. Still, some reports show a continuous decline in numbers over the last few decades.

Since Rufous Hummingbirds rely on several different habitats, it’s prone to the effects of climate change. This is a relatively small member of the hummingbird family, with a wingspan of 4.25 inches and a body length of 3.5 to 4 inches. Their diet involves mostly nectars and insects they like to catch from spider webs. They’re common around tubular flowers and like the sugar water from feeders. You’ll often see Rufous visiting tubular flowers, such as:

  • penstemons
  • red columbines
  • paintbrush
  • scarlet sage
  • gilia

They breed and nest farther north than any other hummingbird, all the way to southern Alaska. Compared to other western hummingbirds, the Rufous subspecies has the largest range. Nesting and incubation are solely the female Rufous’ tasks, as males proceed to find other mating partners. Females will lay two eggs after incubating 15 to 17 days. Their nest is a compact cup made of:

  • grass
  • moss
  • spider webs, and other soft materials

They camouflage the nests with lichens and moss. Young Rufous hummingbirds start flying at around 21 days of age.

rufous hummingbird perched on a branch

Why Are Rufous Hummingbirds So Mean?

Male Rufous hummingbirds are known for defending their hummingbird feeders and overall territory by chasing away many other species — even females during the breeding season. They also attack Calliope hummingbirds and other hummer kinds.

Migration Path of Rufous Hummingbirds

Rufous hummingbirds are migrants and make a clockwise circuit of western North America each year. This kind can reach parts of California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico during their spring/fall migration.

They head to the Pacific Coast and spend winters in Mexico and the Gulf Coast. Rufous’ range map includes Washington and British Columbia in the spring (May). When July comes, they’ll move towards the Rocky Mountains. During the summer breeding period, they’ll visit Washington, Oregon, and westernmost Canada.

Juvenile male rufous hummingbird fledging
Juvenile male rufous hummingbird fledging

Common Sightings and Habitat

The breeding habitat includes open areas, forest edges, and brushy second growth within the northern coast region. Rufous hummingbirds spend winters in Mexico. During spring, these migrants could be seen in the lowlands. During summer/fall, they visit the mountain meadows.

Comparison to Other Hummingbird Species

If your yard is packed with various kinds of hummingbirds, here’s how you can distinguish them from Rufous ones:

  • Ruby-throated hummingbirds are a bright emerald color or golden-green on the back with red gorgets.
  • Calliope hummingbirds have unique magenta gorgets that spread towards the bellies.
  • Anna’s hummingbird has a pink head and gorget.
  • Adult male Allen’s hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin) looks like Rufous the most, but you can distinguish it by its greenish back.
  • Broad-tailed hummingbirds have red gorgets and greenish backs.

If you want to learn more about the Rufous hummingbirds, check out Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Final Word

The rufous hummingbird is one of the fiercest kinds of hummingbirds. It’s capable of chasing away various predators, sometimes even chipmunks. Adult males are bright orange, and adult females are duller in color. If you see them, you’ll likely recognize them by their reddish gorgets and territorial behavior.


Mileva has a passion for writing and she loves to share her thoughts in all forms. Observing wildlife — birds and other untamed animals soothes her soul. This is why you’ll often find her staring at the closest forest, looking for inspiration for her next article.

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