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Utah County's rufous hummingbirds

First fall rufous hummingbird visiting the feeder
First fall rufous hummingbird visiting the feeder
Melissa Mayntz

You know it's August in Utah County when rufous hummingbirds arrive as regular guests at nectar feeders. These tenacious hummers arrive in mid- to late-summer from their northern breeding grounds (they breed as far north as Alaska), and will stay until late September or early October. We don't see them in the spring because they have a unique migration route, following the Pacific coast north early in the year when flowers are blooming to fuel their journey, but changing to a southerly mountain route in fall because mountain flowers are blooming then, and there is less competition than they'd find during late summer along the coast.

The rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) is one of the most aggressive hummingbirds, and they can be very territorial at feeders, chasing other hummingbirds away or perching nearby to guard "their" feeders. When they arrive, our summer resident black-chinned hummingbirds and broad-tailed hummingbirds may get marginally more aggressive as they try to stay in control, but they will rarely win an argument with a rufous.

Male rufous hummingbirds are easy to recognize by their bright orange or orange-red gorget, orange backs, creamy orange flanks, and sharply pointed tail feathers. A few males may show a green back and be harder to tell from other hummingbird species, and both young males and females have green backs and a few splotchy feathers showing on the throat. The females of other local hummingbird species have fairly plain throats that may only show faint gray streaks, but never bold splotches.

When the rufous hummingbirds arrive, it doesn't mean less assertive hummers have to leave or go hungry. You can continue to feed all your hummers by providing an extra feeder or two, preferably positioning the feeders on opposite sides of a house or around a corner so a single hummingbird cannot guard them all at the same time. Plant some late-blooming flowers for hummers, such as penstemon or cardinal flower, for a natural food source they can share, and offer several water sources for hummingbirds so they can stay cool even after a big fight.

Do you know when hummingbird migration is? Share your rufous hummingbird sightings in the comments!