Rufous Hummingbirds (Selasphorus rufus) breed farther North than any other North American hummingbird and have the longest migration route of all U.S. hummers. Their spring migration brings the majority of them through Northern California in April when these photos of the male Rufous Hummingbird were taken. Click on photos for full sized images.

They appear again in my yard in August, on their way back to Mexico where most of them spend their winters.

So far this year I have only been visited by females and juvenile Rufous Hummingbirds on their return migration. I first noticed this female defending one of the hummingbird feeders that had previously been defended by a male Anna’s Hummingbird only a couple of weeks earlier.

Note the small central group of shimmering orange feathers on her otherwise white throat with lines of dark spots.

The juveniles, which all resemble the adult female Rufous Hummingbird, have little or no bright gorget type markings on the throat and less distinct lines of spots.

This female was not only defending her feeder but the sunflowers that were growing only a few feet away.

Notice that her upper tail coverts are mostly rufous, compared to the juvenile whose are mostly green.

Rufous Hummingbirds are aggressively territorial and will defend hummingbird feeders as well as flower patches. This female is defending both. Make sure you turn your speakers up to hear her vocalizations!

You may have noticed that the female uses those scolding vocalizations to fend off other hummingbirds, usually before fanning her tail to show the rufous, black and white.

The notch at the tip of the second tail feather is the best way to distinguish the Rufous Hummingbird from Allen’s. It is not as obvious in the tail of this immature bird as it is in the female above and the in-flight shot of the male rufous at the beginning of the post.

Truthfully, I found it difficult to tell the adult female from the juveniles around the yard other than some interesting behavior.

In this photo of the side of my house below, you can see a hummingbird feeder in the upper right hand corner with a trellis to the left with some dead Wisteria branches attached. That is where the adult female Rufous Hummingbird was perching to defend her feeder, the sunflowers and the Autumn Sage seen below with the red flowers.

She would chase away any hummers that came within twenty feet of that area. There were two juveniles however, that were allowed to perch within a couple of feet from her on the wisteria branches…

and among the sunflowers (note the pollen on this juvenile’s beak).

I found it very interesting that she would not let them drink from the feeder. She would gently chase them off to the sunflowers or the sage below to feed.

Do you suppose that these were her offspring? Do you think she could have been teaching them to feed from flowers rather than hummingbird feeders, knowing that feeders would not always be available?

Here’s one of the juveniles getting ready to take off after intently watching the adult female. Note how much green is in the uppertail coverts and also the dark green tips of the tail.

Now look at the uppertail coverts and tail of the adult female. They are showing much more rufous coloration.

I will leave you with this juvenile Rufous Hummingbird heading toward a sunflower to feed. Whether it is of necessity or following orders from Mom, I guess I will never know.

Written by Larry
Larry Jordan was introduced to birding after moving to northern California where he was overwhelmed by the local wildlife, forcing him to buy his first field guide just to be able to identify all the species visiting his yard. Building birdhouses and putting up feeders brought the avian fauna even closer and he was hooked. Larry wanted to share his passion for birds and conservation and hatched The Birder's Report in September of 2007. His recent focus is on bringing the Western Burrowing Owl back to life in California where he also monitors several bluebird trails. He is a BirdLife Species Champion and contributes to several other conservation efforts, being the webmaster for Wintu Audubon Society and the Director of Strategic Initiatives for the Urban Bird Foundation. He is now co-founder of a movement to create a new revenue stream for our National Wildlife Refuges with a Wildlife Conservation Pass.