Monday, May 8, 2017

Pollinator of the Week: Rufous Hummingbird by Donna Duffy

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Rufous Hummingbird, photo courtesy Pollinator Partnership

This article is excerpted from The Rufous Hummingbird: Small But Feisty Long-distance Migrant by Stephen Buchmann, Pollinator Partnership. 

 Many western and southwestern gardeners know the Rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) as a delightful often-unexpected visitor to colorful garden wildflowers or hummingbird feeders. These amazing small but feisty birds (only 3” long) weigh merely three or four grams; for comparison, a United States penny weighs about 2.5 grams. These birds are amazing aerialists, darting in and out, and can be relentless attackers of other birds and insects at feeders and flowers. They have long slender nearly straight bills. Their wings are relatively short and do not reach the end of the tail when the birds are perched on a feeder or nearby branches. They are also one of the few North American hummingbirds to migrate long distances. Rufous hummingbirds are a western species, rarely straying into the eastern United States.

Male Rufous Hummingbird, photo courtesy Pollinator Partnership

In strong sunlight, male Rufous put on quite a show with throat feathers flashing, a reddish orange iridescence brighter than a neon sign. Although not the largest hummingbirds, Rufous are feisty, especially the males who chase and drive other hummers and large insects from their feeding territories. Rufous are pugnacious little birds. Feeding does not only include sucrose-rich floral nectars, Rufous have a high protein diet that comes from small insects. Various flies, wasps, bees and other small insects are consumed during high-speed encounters where birds splaying their bills open gulp down a meal as revealed in high-speed cinematography of captive individuals. Rufous, along with other hummingbirds, also practice a bit of larceny by stealing insects already caught in spider webs.

Female Rufous Hummingbird, photo courtesy Pollinator Partnership

 Rufous hummingbirds exhibit amazing flight endurance on long-distance north and south migrations from southern Alaska to southernmost Mexico. These birds spend a large proportion of their time on the move following the bloom of their favorite plants. As champion migrants, they spend their summer breeding period, to the north in Washington, Oregon and westernmost Canada. Like some warmth-loving human tourists they spend their winter non-breeding months in southern Mexico especially in wooded areas in the state of Guerrero. Some Rufous individuals have been banded and are known to fly 2,000 miles during their migratory transits, and to live to an average ripe old age of eight years old. At 3,600 wing beats per minute, that is a huge amount of effort and energy expended for these sugar-loving animals. They routinely fly at 25 miles per hour, but some species reach 50 mph in courtship displays.