Earth Notes: Summer’s Pugnacious Hummingbird

Aug 8, 2012

Small can be beautiful, but for some of nature’s most spectacular birds small can mean really tough, too. Witness the rufous hummingbird, which visits wildflower meadows and hummingbird feeders across the Colorado Plateau in late summer.

For a bird less than four inches in length, the rufous hummingbird pulls off an impressive migration each year. From their wintering grounds in southern Mexico, they fly north each spring to breeding territories in the Pacific Northwest, western Canada, and even as far north as Alaska.

Rufous hummers typically migrate north through western deserts, but their trek south in July and August takes them through the mountains, where flowers and insects remain abundant all summer. They’re among the earliest southbound migrants you’re likely to see.

But that abundance doesn’t stop rufous hummingbirds from fiercely defending promising feeding grounds. Whether in a lush meadow or at a backyard feeder, they’ll vigorously chase away all comers, including all other hummingbirds, even songbirds much larger than themselves.

Listen for a distinctive call of “zee-chuppity-chup!” to identify this hummingbird, or watch for it: this species’ bright rust and green tones set it apart from its relatives. And you can attract this and other hummingbirds to your yard, too. Plant some native wildflowers, especially those that feature long, tubular red flowers, and you’ll soon find yourself hosting a hummingbird showcase in late summer.

Visit our website at for a link to the Hummingbird Monitoring Network, an Arizona-based organization that helps volunteers keep track of the west’s tiny flying jewels.