Known as a species with one of the most extreme migration journeys in the world, rufous hummingbirds (Selasphorus rufus) undertake a mammoth trip each year, traveling between Alaska and northwest Canada to breed, and flying thousands of miles south once temperatures start to drop. But where exactly do rufous hummingbirds breed?
We’ll be looking at the preferred nesting habitats of rufous hummingbirds and exploring just where they spend winters, so stay with us if you’re keen to learn more about where these hummingbirds live, and what sort of habitats they can be found in.
Rufous hummingbirds are common breeding visitors to the Pacific Northwest, with birds arriving at their spring nesting grounds in Alaska, British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, Alberta, Montana, and Idaho from March onwards. After raising their young, they head south again, towards southwest Mexico.
With established nesting sites in a variety of habitats, including woodland clearings, forested areas of parks, and mountain scrubland, rufous hummingbirds are also becoming an increasingly common sight in urban backyards, visiting nectar feeders and wildflower patches.
Rufous Hummingbirds are breeding visitors to the Pacific Northwest each year
After the breeding season is over, males will depart the northwestern regions of North America, to head south across land towards the extreme southern regions of the United States, before ending their migration in Mexico.
Female Rufous Hummingbirds and juveniles depart up to a month after the males, heading in the same general direction, but do not travel in large flocks or gather or reunite at any specific sites.
We’ll be looking into what kind of habitats support rufous hummingbirds at different times of the year, and where you might stand the best chances of spotting one of these tiny, feisty copper-winged birds, so please do read on if this is of interest to you!
Rufous Hummingbird eyeing up some nectar to feed on
The breeding range of rufous hummingbirds extends into northwestern North America, as far north as Alaska and parts of western Canada. In these areas, it is commonly found in open woodlands and parks between March and July.
Migration from southern wintering territories takes place between late February and early May, with the return leg south into Mexico, occurring between June and September.
During migration passage, rufous hummingbirds may be seen throughout the extreme west of the US, into southern California, where small populations spend the winter.
Breeding populations of rufous hummingbirds are found along the Pacific coast of the United States in the spring and summer months. These are concentrated particularly in Washington and Oregon, as well as further inland into Idaho and Montana. Small breeding populations are also present in California.
Rufous hummingbirds may be seen in migratory passage through wider regions of the west and southwest each year in early spring and late summer. Sightings of the species have been recorded in 47 states, but its presence is more widespread and common towards the western coast.
Rufous hummingbirds are breeding visitors to large areas of Canada, particularly the west of the country. Eight Canadian provinces and territories have recorded breeding activity, with the most common spots being in the Western Cordillera region, particularly in British Columbia and into Alberta.
Rufous Hummingbird hovering and feeding on a Salmonberry flower
Rufous hummingbirds thrive in a variety of habitats, according to their seasonal needs. Their preferred breeding habitats include woodland clearings and forest edges, with lowland scrub or parkland also popular nesting sites. Winters are typically spent in pine-oak woods in Mexico.
Attracted by the presence of garden nectar feeders, rufous hummingbirds can increasingly be seen in urban areas, close to human habitation, as well as in parks and edges of woodlands, where shelter is provided by both deciduous and coniferous trees.
During their migrations, rufous hummingbirds will seek out foraging sites in wildflower mountain meadows, orchards, and scrubland with naturally occurring flowers.
Adult male Rufous Hummingbird perched on a branch
In the Pacific Northwest, the rufous hummingbird is the most prevalent hummingbird species and depending on the season, and geographical location, sightings are not uncommon.
2004 estimates put the global population of rufous hummingbirds at around 6,500,000, indicating a decline in numbers from previous decades. However, they are listed as a species of least concern, meaning they are not considered rare or threatened.
During their migrations, many rufous hummingbirds may be spotted taking advantage of the wildflower meadows that are dotted along stretches of the Rocky Mountains.
It’s a common hummingbird species and is concentrated largely in the Pacific Northwest during spring and summer months, but sightings have been reported across wider areas, including 47 U.S. States, 8 Canadian Provinces, and 22 of the 32 states of Mexico.
Male Rufous Hummingbird close up
Rufous hummingbirds are diurnal birds, meaning they are active in daylight hours. For hummingbirds, the most active period of the day is around dawn, when they make their way to feeders or begin foraging in natural sites for nectar to give them vital energy for the day ahead.
Like other hummingbird species, rufous hummingbirds have a fast metabolism and need to feed between 5 and 8 times each hour, so can be seen throughout the day returning to feeders to maintain their energy levels.
Rufous hummingbirds are migratory, arriving in their northern breeding grounds from early March onwards, and departing again for the sunnier south between late June and September each year.
They are known as one of the most extreme migratory species, traveling up to 2,000 mi (3,200 km) between their breeding and wintering territories.
Female Rufous Hummingbird wading
During winter months, large numbers of rufous hummingbirds head to the warmer climes of Mexico, with many establishing a temporary home in the state of Guerrero, in the southwest of the country.
They are typically found at altitudes lower than 3,000 m (9,800 ft), and preferred habitats include the edges of oak and fir forests, mountain slopes, open plains, and scrublands.
In the spring and summer, rufous hummingbirds establish nest sites in a range of habitats in northwestern North America. Habitats that are particularly attractive to breeding rufous hummingbirds seem to be dense, mature forests, as well as parks, open meadows, deciduous woodland, and the edges of pastureland and orchards.
Rufous hummingbirds leave their wintering grounds in Mexico around February each year, and travel as far north as Alaska, British Columbia, and the Yukon Territories, as well as further south in the Pacific Northwest U.S., and remain there between March and July each summer while they raise their young.
Rufous Hummingbird visiting a feeder
Hummingbirds are generally solitary birds and do not feed or migrate in flocks. They have a reputation as being fiercely territorial and intolerant of any other birds straying into a site they have laid claim to.
Grudgingly, Rufous Hummingbirds may share a bird feeder with other hummingbirds, but tend to prefer their own company. Even mating pairs do not forge strong bonds, and males may mate with several females during the course of a breeding season.
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