I sat in the backyard of my friend Barb who had several Rufous Hummingbirds visiting for a few days. I saw one immediately as I walked from the house, but wanted to watch them and get some photos. The first Rufous Hummingbird usually shows up in my yard sometime between July 1 and 10, but none had visited so far this year. Barb, who lives in the foothills, had her first one arrive at the end of June.
The one I spotted as I was stepping outside at Barb’s quickly disappeared, but he couldn’t resist staying close to ‘his’ feeders. At first he hovered behind the leaves of a nearby tree checking me out. When I sat quietly, he zoomed into the area near one of the feeders, but quickly disappeared and sat behind a leaf of a winding grape vine.
His hyperactive nature got the best of him and he zipped out, flew around the corner to make sure another hummer was not sipping sugar water at one of his feeders, then returned, pausing briefly on a rose bush,
And then landing in the original area, but in plain view – his bright orangish-red gorget glistening in the early evening sun.
During the course of the evening as we ate dinner outside, I was able to spot 3 males and one female.
According to Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Birds of North America Online, “While most adult male Rufous may be identified in the field by their entirely rufous back and oval display flight on breeding grounds, female (both adult and immature) and immature male Rufous are only identifiable in the hand. Not all adult male Rufous Hummingbirds are identifiable in the field because a small percentage throughout that species’ range have varying amounts of green in the back, including a few with entirely green backs.”
In early June 2007, I visited Alaska with my friend Sue on a trip sponsored by the Audubon Naturalist Society out of the Washington, DC area where Sue lived. Early on the trip when we were in the Seward area, our guide Mark Garland pointed out a Rufous Hummingbird – a real highlight to the rest of the trip participants – all from the area within the Beltway.
Although the Rufous Hummingbird was not new to me, I marveled when Mark told us that “this is their northern-most territory.”
A check on eBird shows that with gradual warming, they are now being spotted as far north as Anchorage.
Their breeding range includes Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, the foothills of western Alberta, central Idaho, western Montana, and far northern California.
Their north-bound migration route is through coastal California where flowers are blooming. I often see them in Southern California when visiting family, although I have to be careful to differentiate them from the resident Allen’s Hummingbird.
“As soon as the female is sitting on her nest,” Mark continued, “the male doesn’t hang around, but begins his trip south.”
The south-bound migration route is primarily over the Rockies and nearby areas, including along the Rio Grande Valley. Their abundance at feeders in the Sandia and Manzano Mountains and foothills is greater than in Albuquerque. In past years the Central New Mexico Thursday Birders always planned their summer potluck at the Manzano Mountains foothills home of member Bonnie Long who annually hosts scores of migrating hummingbirds, including many Rufous.
Abandoned by her mate, the female Rufous Hummingbird is the ultimate single parent, only leaving the eggs for brief periods to feed during the two-plus week incubation period. Once hatched, the chicks are helpless and require feeding and brooding for about two weeks. The chicks then leave the nest, but are not able to feed themselves. They test out their wings, and then pick a perch that they return to and where the mom will deliver food.
The female leaves about a week after the chicks are fledged and able to forage for themselves, while the juveniles hang around until they fatten up, then leave with the southward route somehow imprinted in their brains.
In addition to nectar (from plants or feeders), during the breeding period – or if plants are not yet blooming when they arrive, they forage for small insects, e.g. aphids, mites, white flies, etc.
Both on their breeding grounds and on migration re-fueling stop-overs, they are the ultimate territorial species, guarding their feeding territory, including your yard if you are lucky to have one spend a few days – or up to a week). The sound of their wing trill as they fly from a perch to divert a feeder interloper is quite loud and distinctive.
When I first started feeding hummingbirds,
I placed a second feeder attached to the window next to my computer so I could watch them feed. Unfortunately, the stop-over Rufous was able to set up a perch on a tree where he could see both feeders!
I abandoned the window feeder and put the second feeder in the back of my house so my resident Black-chinned family would have a place to feed.
Of course, people with multiple feeders and scores of hummingbirds, are able to satisfy all of them – most of the time.
Rufous Hummingbirds can be seen in central New Mexico from very late June through the end of September and early October as the late-arriving juveniles straggle through.
The final destination for most of them is southern Mexico. According to Cornell Lab’s Birds of North American Online, there are an “Increasing number of verified sightings of individuals in late fall (or winter) in southeast US.” In February 2011, while birding with my friend Barb along the Anhinga Trail in the Everglades NP, we were surprised to see a Rufous Hummingbird perched in some green shrubs bordering the slough.
The feisty Rufous Hummingbird with its self-confident attitude is an anticipated summer visitor in central New Mexico.