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.
Wow! So many great shots of these beautiful little hummingbirds!
Super shots of these awesome birds.
Wonderful little birds I probably will never see in the wild Larry… so many thanks for sharing.
You have to love those gorgeous creatures. Thanks for many great photos and info. I also enjoyed the video 🙂
In our area, we are told that the males leave first for the migration.We still have them here.The male is the one who always dive bombs other hummingbirds,not the female.That`s the question I would like to know,why don`t they all travel together for the migration?Does the mom stay behind to further teach the babes how to get nectar from the flowers & not depend on sugar water? I guess we may never know,wonderful clear shots of the hummingbirds you gave us!phyllis
@Phyllis male hummingbirds are polygynous for the most part meaning that they breed with multiple females. They arrive on breeding grounds before the females to stake out a breeding territory with a good food supply. They proceed to mate with as many females as they can. The females choose the nest site, build the nest, incubate the eggs and raise the young by themselves. Basically, hummingbirds, including the Rufous and Ruby-throated, are solitary except when mating.
The fall migration coincides with peak blooming time of flowering plants along the Southern migration route. The females and juveniles lag behind the males on the Southern migration by about a month because they are raising their young.
The hummingbirds are just beautiful.
We have Rufous and Anna’s at our hummingbird feeder here on the Olympic Peninsula. I never even noticed the Rufous’s orange throat feathers until seeing your amazing photos! Thanks for a very informative and gorgeous post!
I have been an avid bird watcher for years but my favorite is the hummingbird. I recently have moved to the Dominican Republic and can’t wait to build my log of hummingbird sitings. I have also invested in my first SLR camera! I’ve waited over 25 years to do this!! Can you tell me the details of the lens you are using? Primarily, the one you have used for these amazing photos. Thanks for sharing your talents!!
@Belinda I use a Nikon D90 with an AF VR Zoom-NIKKOR 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D ED lens for most of my photos, including the ones you see here. If I could afford it, I would buy a Nikon 200-400mm f/4G AF-S IF-ED VR II, which can be used with a teleconverter, but the lens alone runs about $6400. So when I want to get close, I use a digiscoping set-up with a Kowa TSN-884 Prominar scope. You can see my digiscoping set-up here. Trouble is with digiscoping, you must focus manually. Not desirable for shooting hummingbirds 😉
Good luck in the Dominican Republic! You will find that hummingbirds are very approachable around feeders and with practice and good light, you can get some great photos.
You are so fortunate, Larry, to have these gorgeous jewel-like visitors!. Thanks for sharing your lovely images. By the way, I have too considered the Nikon 200-400 lens after looking at Mia McPherson’s photos, but the better the lens the heavier it gets, really too heavy for hand-holding, not mentioning the expense.
Can you recommended a good place to photograph Hummungbirds near La Romana Dominican Republic
I will be there from 2/13- 2/16