At-Home Nature Alert: Rufous Hummingbirds

Photo Credit to Dee Brausch

The speed at which worldly events are unfolding is set at a dizzying pace. How different the atmosphere felt just one month ago, at the end of February. A pretty glorious stretch of sunshine made it easier to let the stress slip away while moving our bodies through forests, across hilltop meadows, or alongside waters. It was fun while it lasted, but probably not worth the risk that overcrowding our Valley trailheads and Central Coast beaches brought. Now confined to more domestic environs, Corvallisites and others are finding new ways to slow down and experience nature closer to home.   

What’s that? Just outside the window? Something flashy, something orange. Vibrating wings, a bajillion beats per second – quickly swooping out of sight. Crack the window open and hear a high-pitched trill as it flies! Selasphorus rufus, of the order Caprimulgiformes and the family Trochilidae. A Rufous hummingbird.   

Rufous hummingbirds are aptly named with striking iridescent orange patches of feathers at their throat. Males also having orange across their backs, wings, and tails, while females take on greener hues. Usually around three inches long, the birds make a breeding migration that extends farther north than any other hummingbird, all the way into Alaska. During warmer months, Oregon represents the more southern tip of their range, while during the winters, they leave the lower 48 behind for the warmth of Mexico.   

Using their distinctive beaks, Rufous hummingbirds use nectar as a food source, as well as insects. I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing their feeding on early-blooming native plants such as red-flowering currants, as well as on rosemary bushes and the later blooming ornamental fuchsias popular in hanging baskets. Debatably more entertaining is the brazen interactions a Rufous will initiate with any critter they deem in their way, whether it be another backyard bird or even a chipmunk. It is better than whatever show you are currently binging, or at least a healthy break from it.   

Normally, I’d advise heading to your local nursery to obtain some lovely plants so that you may have the chance of attracting these creatures to your neck of the woods. But, for obvious and necessary reasons, you can’t do that now. As an alternative, check out the gardening section in your open grocer and pick out a hummingbird feeder and nectar mix. Hang your feeder somewhere outside where you’ll have a sure view of it indoors and visit your viewing perch often. If you are one of those gracious souls helping your neighbors out with their weekly shopping needs, surprise them with this addition to the usual cans of beans and TP.   

Perhaps the neatest thing about Rufous hummingbirds is their strong memory of place. A necessity for successfully undertaking such long migrations is each individual’s ability to remember where certain flowers and feeders are located. Provide food for a Rufous once, and it is sure to be back again next year.   

By Ari Blatt