Some fortunate folks have been endowed throughout history with the awesome responsibility of ascribing common names to newly discovered avian species. Often, perhaps too often, these eloquent souls went above and beyond the call of duty in describing the palette of colors confronting them. That’s why we nature lovers have to go above and beyond to interpret just what these names actually mean.
Our birding plumage of the day is rufous as in, “I caught a flash of rufous in that tree.” Rufous or, if you prefer, rufescent, is a reddish-brown color very similar to the color of oxidized iron. In fact, if you were unfamiliar with the term rufous, you would identify it as rust. However, rust is a hue more natural to a sword than a sabrewing, so rufous is often applied out in the field (not always, though, considering the plethora of plumage described as rusty.)
If you are at all interested in birds, get used to the word rufous. It is a very common color in the avian world. In the Americas alone, there are birds named for their rufous backs, bellies, breasts, brows, caps, cheeks, collars, crests, crowns, necks, napes, rumps, sides, tails, throats, vents, and wings. While there are perhaps 38 birds in the New World with rufous in their names, there are many, many times that number with rufous in their plumage. So, next time you go birding and spot the reddish-brown flanks of a towhee, call it like you see it. Call it rufous!
Of course, if that doesn’t work for you, there’s always ferruginous…