Common Name

Scientific Name

Photo by Jim Parrish
Photo Copyright Jim Parrish

The rufous hummingbird, Selasphorus rufus, exhibits two behaviors that separate it from other hummingbirds: 1) it ventures farther north during its migration than any others, reaching the southeastern coast of Alaska, and 2) it makes the longest known migration of any bird species (measured in body lengths).

The rufous hummingbird spends the breeding season in coniferous forests and meadows of the northwestern United States, southwestern Alberta, British Columbia, and southeastern Alaska. It winters in southern California, Baja California, southwestern Arizona, and southward from central Mexico to Oaxaca, and eastward along the Gulf Coast into the Florida Panhandle. In addition, individuals may spend the winter in about a half dozen very localized areas in the Gulf States and Florida. It appears that this hummingbird follows the same migration route each year; birds migrate northwards from the wintering grounds along the Pacific coast in the spring and then return inland, either along the side of the Great Basin Desert, or along the Rocky Mountain Cordillera. Migrants must stop to refuel during their long trip, and it is during the fall migration that individuals are often spotted throughout Utah.

Rufous hummingbirds feed, while hovering, on the nectar of a variety of flowers. When nectar is in short supply, they will feed on small insects. Individuals are highly territorial, males especially so during the breeding season. Territoriality is by no means limited to the breeding season though, as birds will establish territories at stopover points along their migration routes. A male mates with more than one female, and each female then builds a small, deep nest in which she incubates her two eggs for approximately two weeks. Often several females will nest in close proximity to each other in semi-colonial fashion. Just as with feeding territories, females will defend their nests vigorously. The young are born blind and without down, and are fed by their mothers until they leave the nest at three weeks of age.


  • Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye. 1988. The birderís handbook[:] a field guide to the natural history of North American birds. Simon & Schuster, New York. xxx + 785 pp.

  • Behle, W. H., Sorensen, E. D. and C. M. White. 1985. Utah birds: a revised checklist. Utah Museum of Natural History, Occasional Publication No. 4. Salt Lake City, UT.

  • Calder, W. A. 1993. Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus). Birds of North America 53.