The Rufous Hummers are Back!

A male, showing the typical rufous coloring and the white eyespot of both sexes.

    Hank and I were sipping coffee on our deck the other morning when my heart jolted into my throat. A miniature buzz bomb whizzed past my ear, reversed course, and zipped back to an evergreen shrub near the steps. Had a smaller buzz registered a split second earlier? Yes, it had.

Female Rufous, with rufous sides, green back, and speckled throat.

    The maker of the outsize noise hovered next to the bush, vibrating wings a blur. The copper-colored body glowed orange as a firebrand in the sunlight. Its iridescent throat flashed red; its fan of black and green tail feathers and its head curved together in a backward C. The display must have been irresistible to the little female perched in the bush. She dropped to the ground, her green back and white belly glistening, her long black bill tilted upward. She gazed adoringly as any teenager while her magnificent suitor swung, pendulum-like, above her.

    It was one of God’s jewel-moments and it lasted only a few seconds. When I made a slight movement, both birds flashed away.

    The rufous hummingbirds had returned to the Pacific Northwest. These medium-sized, feisty hummers are noted for their lengthy migration route. Our visitors had probably spent the winter in Mexico or the southern U.S., but their breeding grounds are to the west of the Rockies, from Oregon to southern Alaska. In the fall, they migrate through the Rockies and back to their wintering grounds. They play an important part in pollinating plants year-round throughout this vast habitat.

    Like all hummingbirds, the Rufous feed on nectar and tiny insects which they either catch in flight or steal from spider webs. They breed as far north as Alaska, more northerly than any other hummingbird. The female constructs her thimble-sized nest of soft plant materials held together with strands of spider web. She adds a layer of moss and decorates it with camoflaging flakes of lichen. She feeds her young by placing her long bill into their throats and regurgitating a mixture of nectar and insects.

    A rufous hummingbird weighs only about as much as a penny and a half but it’s among the most pugnacious of hummers. It will chase away other hummingbirds, even those that weigh twice as much, from any feeder or patch of flowers it considers its territory.

    Rufous hummingbirds are a fascinating example of the adaptability and variety of the creatures with whom we share the world. And because of the huge territory they cover during the year, they need our help in protecting places where they can feed and nest.

Photos courtesy of Photobucket

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