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About the ABA

The American Birding Association (ABA) provides a community, forum, and resources for every birder, bird watcher, and bird enthusiast. From the backyard bird feeder to the world-traveling, rare bird-searching birder, ABA’s members enjoy the benefits of an organization that represents them. They pore over their newsletter, Winging It, filled with contributions by other birders, and peruse the award-winning magazine Birding. ABA’s members and staff make a real difference as volunteers and leaders in the birding community, conducting crucial research, implementing conservation activities, teaching others, and sharing resources. To join the ABA visit www.aba.org/join. We'd love to have you!

ABA Bird of the Year 2014: Rufous Hummingbird

Bird of the Year
Rufous Hummingbird
(Selasphorus rufus)

ABA Bird of the Year painting of Rufous Hummingbirds by John Sill.

ABA Bird of the Year painting of Rufous Hummingbirds by John Sill.

Introduction by Nate Swick, ABA Blog editor

Few birds in North America are as beloved as hummingbirds. And few hummingbirds are as beloved as the penny-colored pugilist, Rufous Hummingbird. There is no subtlety to this species, no cryptic plumage or retiring habits. Even among an entire family of charismatic and colorful brethren, the Rufous Hummingbird stands alone as the exemplary hummingbird, that one against which every other is measured. In North America at least, it is arguably the hummingbird-est hummingbird.

Part of the Rufous Hummer’s mystique has to do with their strange–extreme, even–geographic range. Rufous Hummingbirds nest farther north than any other hummer–into Alaska and northwestern Canada–and they have the greatest migration-distance-to-body-size ratio of any bird species in the  Americas, and likely the world. Birders know them well when their protracted migration takes them in numbers across the West where they spend a lot of time vigorously defending feeders and alpine meadows during the summer. But it’s their increasing presence across the rest of the ABA Area that makes them such a compelling choice for Bird of the Year.

Rufous Hummingbirds, more than any other, have led the charge that has seen hummingbirds of several species increasingly over-wintering in the East, which in turn has changed the way that hummingbird enthusiasts have looked at the fall season. What in the past has been a time to bid farewell to the birds of summer is now an opportunity to retrench, leaving feeders out well into fall in the hopes of winning the wintering hummingbird lottery. And the bird these folks are hoping to attract is almost always a striking adult male Rufous Hummingbird.

Like the Rufous Hummingbird, the ABA is making the move eastward in the fall, to our new home in Delaware City, Delaware. But we’re not looking to leave the West behind. We expect that this organization, like our 2014 Bird of the Year, will maintain a presence across the ABA Area, so that every birder will have the opportunity to continue to enjoy both both the birds and birders that make this path we’ve chosen so satisfying.


 

Fun Facts About Rufous Hummingbirds

  • For its body size, the Rufous Hummingbird makes one of the longest migratory journeys of any bird in the world. At just over 3 inches long, its roughly 3,900-mile movement (one-way) from Alaska to Mexico is equivalent to 78,470,000 body lengths. In comparison, the 13-inch-long Arctic Tern’s one-way flight of about 11,185 mi is only 51,430,000 body lengths.

  • Their migration is fascinating. Every year, the species makes a clockwise circuit of western North America. In late winter, they move up the Pacific Coast reaching Washington and British Columbia by May. As early as June they start south again, by way of the Rocky Mountains to take advantage of flowering alpine meadows.

  • Rufous Hummingbirds overwinter primarily in Mexico and northern Central America, but they have increasingly been overwintering in the southeast United States.

  • The male Rufous Hummingbird performs a display flight as part of courtship, calling while flying in a steep oval or in the shape of a ‘J’. If the female perches, the male may fly in a series of horizontal figure-eights.

The name

The name, Rufous Hummingbird, is fairly self-evident. The tiny hummingbird is unique among North America’s species by it’s uniformly coppery color in adult males. Only the Allen’s Hummingbird is similar, though it shows a green back.

The Rufous Hummingbird’s genus, Selasphorus, comes from the Greek Selas-, meaning flame, and -phoros, to carry.  The specific name, rufus, refers to the color.   One may be justified to call these little firecrackers Red Flame-bearers.

Identification:

  • Adults males are largely rufous (reddish-brown) with an iridescent orange-red throat patch, a green forehead, white breast, and a white spot behind the eye.

  • The amount of rufous on the back is variable, with some adults showing scattered green feathers or more extensive green on the back and crown.

  • Female Rufous Hummingbird ha a greenish back, rufous flanks, and a white spot behind the eye.

  • Females may also show some iridescent feathers in the gorget.

  • The calls of the rufous hummingbird include a warning ‘chip’ note and a rapid ‘eeeee didayer didayer didayer’, given towards intruders. This species generally does not sing, but the male may make a ‘chu-chu-chu-chu’ sound when displaying.

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