Bird Lore: Rufous Hummingbird

Photos by LeRoy Van Hee
Photos by LeRoy Van Hee


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:

– 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.

6 Replies to “Bird Lore: Rufous Hummingbird”

  1. Hi Carol,
    I really like this weekly feature about the birds that live in or come to visit the Edmonds area. I grew up in Edmonds and this is one way to be reminded of these beautiful avians. I also forward them to a friend . . . a high school classmate from the class of 1962. My husband and I live in Renton and she lives in Kent/Covington. Thanks so much for this educational info.


  2. thank you for all the lovely bird information, it is such a pleasure to get this education. hearing birds and not knowing what species they are is frustrating.


  3. My eyes soak in the beauty of your magnificent photography. Thank you SOOOO MUCH!

    It is such a treat to have humingbirds visit my yard. It quite possibly is my favorite bird! I have experienced the Humingbird sanctuary in AZ at the Sonoran Desert Museum many times. What beauty… what peace!


  4. Beautiful photography by LeRoy Van Hee, and nicely written report by Carol Riddel on the Rufous Hummingbird!! What a pleasure to see these beautiful hummingbirds and read such interesting information! Thank you.


  5. We had two Rufous hummingbirds arrive in our yard on July 20th. They love the crocosmia and defend it aggressively. It appears they have left now as the crocosmia has finished blooming earlier than usual. I will continue to watch for them. We are in the Seaview area of Edmonds. Thank you for your interesting article on these fascinating birds.


  6. Thanks for all of the comments and feedback. It’s good to know that at least one neighborhood has hosted some Rufous Hummers on their southbound trip. I had one last July but none this year.


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