BIRD OF THE WEEK: 6/13/2014 SCIENTIFIC NAME: Selasphorus rufus
POPULATION: 11 million
HABITAT: Breeds in western U.S. and Canadian forests; winters mostly in southern Mexico
The feisty red-and-orange Rufous Hummingbird is the most aggressive of the North American hummingbirds, despite being one of the smallest. (Costa's Hummingbird is even smaller.) This three-inch bird often attacks birds many times its size in defense of its territory and reigns supreme at feeders and choice flower patches.
Rufous Hummingbirds emit a variety of high-pitched, buzzing, chattering, and chipping sounds. Their wings also make a high-pitched buzz during flight. Like other hummingbirds, including the Ruby-throated, male Rufous hummers court females with elaborate flight displays, including J-shaped dives and figure eights.
Rufous Hummingbird looks very similar to the Allen's Hummingbird, and the two species occasionally hybridize. Female and juvenile Allen's and Rufous Hummingbirds are extremely difficult to differentiate in the field.
Rufous has a much larger range, though; Allen's Hummingbird one of the most restricted breeding and wintering ranges of any U.S.-breeding hummingbird.
This is the most northerly breeding species of hummingbird in North America. It also makes one of the longest migratory journeys of any bird in the world as measured by body size, traveling up to several thousand miles to wintering grounds in Mexican Western thornscrub. There, it shares habitat with species such as Varied Bunting and Black-capped Vireo.
In recent years, the Rufous has become the most common overwintering hummingbird in the southeastern United States, particularly along the Gulf Coast.
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The population of Rufous Hummingbird is falling close to two percent each year as habitats are lost and other threats along its long migration take their toll. This species is benefiting from ABC's efforts to "bring back the birds," with our focus on conserving geographically linked habitats both north and south.
(Read more about threats to migratory birds in this example featuring Wood Thrush.)
In his book, Stephen Johnson coins the term “Hummingbird Effect” to make the point that innovation in one realm can trigger unpredictable and unexpected advancement in others. We not only agree, but have dozens of examples of how great American bird conservation projects make considerable, sometimes unexpected contributions to other important causes including amphibian conservation, human health, food safety, climate change, water conservation, and home energy savings.
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