Bird Lore: Rufous Hummingbird
The pugnacious little bundle of energy that is the Rufous Hummingbird passes through Edmonds twice a year. In Western Washington the Rufous can start showing up as early as late February, but mid- to late-March is more typical. Its arrival is timed with the emergence of blossoms on red flowering current and salmonberry, two of the earliest red bloomers among our native plants. The timing of its arrival is obviously a feeding strategy. It favors red tubular flowers such as penstemons, red columbines, scarlet sage and gilia, among others. It also eats insects.
Courtship displays by the male Rufous include flying a steep U or vertical oval. He climbs high, dives steeply, and makes whining and popping sounds at the bottom of the dive. He will also buzz back and forth in front of a perched female. Males breed in the lowlands and then depart for higher elevations for the summer.
The female builds a well-concealed nest in the lower parts of conifers, deciduous shrubs, or vines. The nest is usually located between three and fifteen feet off the ground. Similar to the nest of our resident Anna’s Hummingbird, the Rufous nest is a compact cup of soft plant materials bound together with spider webs. The female incubates the eggs for about two weeks and then she alone feeds the young. The nestlings are ready for their first flight after about 21 days. We are not aware of this hummingbird breeding in Edmonds.
The Rufous is a common Western migrant and breeder. It can be found in summer from as far north as South and Southeast Alaska down through Oregon to the California state line. Fall migrants tend to pass through mountain meadows because of late blooming alpine flowers. Their numbers sharply decline in August. The Rufous spends its winters primarily in Mexico with its winter range also reaching into Southern California.
Spring migrants pass mostly through the lowlands in Western Washington. We start hearing of their appearance at hummingbird feeders in March. Why they show up in some Edmonds neighborhoods and not others is uncertain. If one does show up at your hummingbird feeder, watch it defend the feeder aggressively from the larger Anna’s Hummingbird. Some young birds do head south through the Puget lowlands at this time of year so there is still the possibility of seeing them in Edmonds over the next week or two.
Display calls can be heard in this recording from San Juan Island: http://www.xeno-canto.org/76412.
– By Carol Riddell
Carol Riddell, author of our new “Bird Lore” feature, manages the bird education displays, on behalf of Pilchuck Audubon Society and Edmonds Parks & Recreation, at the Olympic Beach Visitor Station.