Rufous hummingbirds (Selasphorus rufus) are the true “angry birds” at many a backyard feeder, chasing off competitors and even their own mates. While males aggressively assert their authority at feeding sites, females are equally fierce to any birds that approach their nests.
But are male and female rufous hummingbirds alike in other ways? Read our complete guide to female rufous hummingbirds to learn more.
Named for their reddish plumage, female rufous hummingbirds are less vibrant in appearance to the more striking males of the species, and are tinged with green and orange. Females are slightly larger than males, although both have a reputation as the world’s most short-tempered hummingbirds.
Although naturally less outwardly flamboyant than their partners, female hummingbirds play an important role in nest-building and raising young, and can certainly hold their own when it comes to defending their territories.
Read our guide to female rufous hummingbirds to find out all you need to know about these tiny, feisty, long-distance migrants.
Close up of a perched female rufous hummingbird
Side by side, it is easy to tell the difference between male and female rufous hummingbirds. Males have white breasts, reddish faces, breasts, and flanks, and a vibrant, iridescent throat patch (also called a gorget). Some males also have a greenish tinge to their heads.
Female rufous hummingbirds are a more muted shade of orange-green, and lack the bright orange gorget that clearly identifies the male of the species.
Female Rufous Hummingbird
Male Rufous Hummingbird
The upperparts of female rufous hummingbirds are a bronze-green color, with reddish-orange flanks. Their underparts are buff-white, and their tail is tapered, with rust-colored feathers at the base.
Female rufous hummingbirds have a red spot on the center of their throats, which is not always visible from a distance. Their bronze-green wings are shorter than their bodies. Both males and females of the species have small, black, undeveloped feet, which are not adapted for walking on the ground. Both sexes have a straight, smooth, black bill.
Female rufous hummingbirds are between 8.9 and 9.5 cm (3.5 and 3.75 in) in length, including their bills. Adult females weigh an average 3.4 g, compared to a fractionally lighter 3.2 g for an adult male.
Female Rufous Hummingbird in flight
Female hummingbirds are known as hens, while males are cocks and young are chicks. There is no word that is specifically used for female rufous hummingbirds.
Female rufous hummingbirds are marginally bigger and heavier than males, to allow them to cope with carrying and laying eggs. An adult female weighs on average 3.4 g, which is 0.2 g heavier than an adult male.
Female rufous hummingbirds also have slightly longer wings, but this is undetectable in the field.
Female Rufous Hummingbird drinking from a feeder
While both male and female rufous hummingbirds have a reputation as fearsome, territorial, aggressive birds, they use this “attitude” to see off slightly different types of threat or competition.
Males tend to show extreme displays of domination and intimidation at food sources, thinking nothing of attempting to drive away much larger birds. Females will vocally defend their nest sites from any perceived threats, and seek separate feeding sites to males, to avoid confrontation.
Rufous hummingbirds undertake extensive migration journeys each year, traveling over 3,200 km (2,000 mi) from Canada or Alaska to spend winters in Mexico. Females set off around two weeks later than males and follow different migration routes, with males tending to travel further east, and females following a parallel journey, slightly to the west.
Closeup of a Female Rufous Hummingbird perched on a branch
Rather than singing, both male and female rufous hummingbirds make a series of short, harsh warning “chip” notes when other birds encroach on their territories.
During courtship, male rufous hummingbirds make a whirring sound while performing aerobatic dives to attempt to impress a potential mate. Females are silent during the mate-selection process and do not make any other vocal sound apart from the warning “chip” when necessary.
The female rufous hummingbird selects the nest site, often in the fork of a twig, and constructs a cup-shaped nest around the size of half a walnut by herself. The tiny nest, which measures around 1.5 in in diameter, is carefully woven from plant fibers, petals, and buds, and is held together with spiders’ webs and moss.
Incubation of the eggs lasts 15 to 17 days, with the female leaving the nest unattended for short periods to feed. Once the eggs hatch, the young are fed regurgitated tiny insects, together with small amounts of nectar, by the female alone, who again leaves the nest briefly to feed. Young rufous hummingbirds gain independence by 21 days, having been solely reared by their mothers.
Adult male rufous hummingbirds defend territories with denser concentrations of flowers, and will contest and challenge any females that approach, driving females to feed at sites with sparser concentrations of nectar-rich flowers.
One theory for this is that males, with their slightly shorter wings, defend sites that have plenty of food within a relatively small area, and therefore expend less energy than if they needed to forage across a wider region.
Rufous Hummingbird fledgling leaving the nest
Female rufous hummingbirds are solely responsible for nest construction and incubation. Males do not play any part in the raising of young.
Male rufous hummingbirds do not stick with one mate during the breeding season, and mate with several females each year. They do not form pairs and do not help to support a nesting female, newly hatched chicks or fledglings in any way.
Neither the male or female rufous hummingbirds sing, in the traditional sense of the word. Instead, both sexes make warning ‘chip’ sounds to drive away threats or predators. Apart from this call, female rufous hummingbirds do not make any other vocalizations.
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