and Rufous: Which is Which?
Male Rufous Hummingbird
Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Left - Jerry Blinn, AviSys;
Right - Dean Briggins, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
your help, Journey North is tracking both Rufous hummingbirds and Ruby-throated
hummingbirds again this spring. These two species have the widest ranges
of North American hummingbirds. Which are YOU watching for? Ruby-throats
are generally seen in the eastern half of the continent and Rufous in
the western half. But how else are they different? How big are they?
What do they eat? Where are the wintering grounds, and what's the climate
like there? Where are the breeding grounds? What migration routes do
they travel? How far north do these two species go?
of Breeding and Wintering Rufous and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.
on the Range
The Rufous and Ruby-throat range map can provide some of the answers.
Click the map to enlarge, and look for this information:
does the latitude of each species' wintering areas compare?
does the latitude of their breeding areas compare?
do the two species overlap?
at the Field Marks
need more clues than just the range maps to identify a Rufous or
a Ruby-throat. Range maps usually only show the vast majority of
but not the handful of individual vagrants ("strays")
that some of you see and report. That complicates things, so we have
this advice: Wherever you see a hummingbird, you need to pay attention
to its field marks. Those marks tell you for sure what species the
belongs to. If
you live in the West, see Mike Patterson's tips to help you know
which hummer you're viewing:
• Are you really seeing a Rufous?
fine field guides to hummingbirds are:
• Hummingbirds of North America (Peterson
Field Guide Series) by Sheri L. Williamson, Houghton Mifflin,
• Hummingbirds of North America: The Photographic Guide by
Steve N.G. Howell, Academic Press, 2002.
with the best books, ornithologists can't always be certain! Hummingbirds
are very tiny. Their plumage varies enough—especially for females
and immatures—that some individual birds can't be identified down
to species. But if you use careful judgment, look at the range maps
and especially the plumage, you can usually be pretty certain which
hummingbird you're seeing.
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