Rufous vs Allen’s Hummingbird: Easiest Ways to Tell Them Apart

Rufous and Allen’s hummingbirds are two closely related species that often cause confusion among bird enthusiasts and experts alike. These small, colorful birds share many similar traits, which can make it difficult to distinguish between the two species. However, there are subtle physical and behavioral differences that separate Rufous and Allen’s hummingbirds, offering unique insights into their habits, habitats, and lifestyles.

One of the key characteristics to focus on when identifying these hummingbirds is their physical appearance. Rufous hummingbirds have a coppery, rusty-colored back and a green chest, while Allen’s hummingbirds boast a green back with a red-orange throat and chest. It should be noted that their appearances vary between males and females, further complicating identification. In addition, these species have distinct tail feather shapes that can differentiate them from one another when observed closely.

Beyond appearances, Rufous and Allen’s hummingbirds also showcase unique behavioral traits, habitat preferences, and migration patterns that offer clues to their identity. Paying close attention to their environment and how they interact with it can provide key insights into which hummingbird species you are observing.

Key Takeaways:

  • Rufous and Allen’s hummingbirds are closely related species that can be challenging to differentiate, necessitating close attention to physical features and behaviors.
  • Important physical distinctions lie in their coloration and tail feather shapes, which vary between individuals and sexes.
  • Observing their habitat preferences and migration patterns, in addition to physical appearances, can aid in accurate identification of Rufous and Allen’s hummingbirds.

Rufous vs Allen’s Hummingbird: Key Visual Differences


First, let’s discuss the coloration of each species. The Rufous hummingbird has a predominantly brownish-red back with a green chest, while the Allen’s hummingbird sports a green back and a red-orange throat and chest area. In terms of size, both hummingbirds are relatively small. However, female or immature Calliope hummingbirds, which are similar to Rufous hummingbirds, have a bronze-green rump and tail, unlike the coppery tail of the Rufous hummingbird1.

Read Next: Ruby-Throated Hummingbird Male vs Female

Back and Rump

Another noteworthy distinction between the two species is the difference in the adult males’ appearances. Male Rufous hummingbirds often have an orange back and rump, but occasionally they exhibit a green back like the Allen’s hummingbird2.

Tail Feathers

If you’re able to get a close look at their spread tails, you’ll notice that the outermost tail feather of a Rufous hummingbird is broader than that of an Allen’s hummingbird2.

Moreover, Rufous and Allen’s hummingbirds also differ in their tail feathers’ shapes, which can help you accurately distinguish between them. The tail feathers in an Allen’s hummingbird are generally narrower compared to those in a Rufous hummingbird, especially the outer three tail feathers3. Observing them when they fan their tails during combat or when preening can reveal this detail3.

In summary, focusing on the coloration, tail feather width, and overall appearance of these hummingbird species can help you accurately identify and differentiate their physical features. Keeping these distinctions in mind can enhance your birdwatching experience when observing Rufous and Allen’s hummingbirds in their natural habitats.

Unique Behavioral Differences

While both Allen’s and Rufous hummingbirds showcase captivating beauty, their behaviors set them apart. Pay attention to these differences while observing these fascinating creatures, and you’ll get a better understanding of their uniqueness.

Both species hover skillfully when feeding, but their territorial natures could be a decisive aspect to note. Rufous hummingbirds are known for their aggressive territorial behavior. They fiercely guard their feeding areas, showing off acrobatic feats in the process, whereas Allen’s hummingbirds might lean towards a travel-loving lifestyle. The migratory Allen’s Hummingbird generally breeds along the coast of California up to southern Oregon, while Rufous hummingbirds prefer breeding in areas extending from southern Oregon to Alaska.

When it comes to courtship, both species have their unique ways of impressing their mates. Allen’s hummingbird males perform thrilling, pendulum-like aerial displays, and they emit a sharp, metallic noise while diving from a height. In contrast, Rufous hummingbird males display a beautiful “j-shaped” dive during courtship.

Another potential distinction relates to their physical features, primarily their backs. Both Allen’s and Rufous hummingbird females have a green back, but the latter displays a slightly emarginated r2 tip that the former lacks.

Understanding these differences and observing these hummingbirds in their habitats will offer you valuable insight into their unique and captivating behavioral characteristics.

Habitat Differences

When exploring the differences between Rufous and Allen’s Hummingbirds, the habitats they prefer offer some key distinctions. While both species can be found in North America, their specific range and favored environments set them apart.

The Rufous Hummingbird has a larger range, extending from southern Alaska to Mexico source. These hummingbirds can be found in various habitats, including forests, meadows, and even residential areas. They are common in Oregon, especially in southern Oregon, where they enjoy the green surroundings of moss-covered trees.

In contrast, the Allen’s Hummingbird has a more limited range and primarily nests in California source. They inhabit shrubby canyons and slopes, coastal chaparral, and open woodland and forest edges. Although they are not as widespread as the Rufous Hummingbird, they have two subspecies—one migratory and one resident—that share their habitat preferences.

Both species can be found along the Pacific Coast, but the Rufous Hummingbird is more likely to be seen farther north or inland in places like Oregon and southern Alaska, while the Allen’s Hummingbird is more common in southern California and parts of Mexico. When observing these birds, keep an eye out for the specific plants and terrain they prefer: the Rufous Hummingbird is fond of forests with moss-covered trees, while the Allen’s Hummingbird favors coastal chaparral and open woodland areas.

As you explore the habitats of these hummingbirds, remember to consider maps and range information to better understand where each species is most likely to be found. Be observant of the various types of forests, meadows, scrub, and residential areas that provide the perfect environments for these unique birds to call home.

Migration Patterns

When discussing hummingbirds, it’s important to understand the differences in migration patterns between the Rufous Hummingbird and the Allen’s Hummingbird. As you look into their life histories, you’ll notice some key distinctions in their movements across North America.

The Rufous Hummingbird embarks on an impressive journey of nearly 4,000 miles between their wintering grounds in Mexico and their breeding grounds in Alaska and northwest Canada. This long-distance feat is quite remarkable for such a small bird species. It’s worth noting that their migration routes may differ based on age and sex, as researchers have found.

In contrast, the Allen’s Hummingbird has a more limited migration pattern documented on its range map, focusing mostly on the west coast of North America. According to the Audubon’s Migration Map, this species travels within specified regions throughout the year, showing variations in abundance across its habitat.

You may find it challenging to differentiate females and immature Allen’s Hummingbirds from Rufous Hummingbirds during the migration periods. This is because they are almost impossible to separate without close examination. Therefore, their status in migration is still being studied, as mentioned on Audubon’s field guide.

Keep in mind that both species have unique breeding seasons and winter ranges. Rufous Hummingbirds undertake their extensive journey from Mexico to the far northwest regions of the continent. Whereas the Allen’s Hummingbird mainly concentrates its movements around the west coast.

To sum up, by understanding these various migration patterns, you’re better equipped to appreciate the fascinating life history and range map of the Rufous and Allen’s Hummingbirds in their different habitats across North America.

Diet and Feeding Differences

When it comes to the diets of Rufous and Allen’s hummingbirds, both species mainly consume nectar and insects. However, there are a few differences in their feeding behaviors and preferences. In this section, we’ll explore those differences and how they affect each species’ diet.

For starters, both hummingbird species love nectar from various types of flowers. One such favorite among these birds is the penstemon, a colorful, tubular flower that attracts these tiny birds. Additionally, you may find them hovering around different flowering plants in search of nectar to fulfill their nutritional needs.

While nectar is an essential part of their diet, both Rufous and Allen’s hummingbirds supplement it by feeding on insects and spiders. These tiny creatures provide essential proteins for the hummingbirds, keeping them healthy and energetic. Although insects and spiders are part of their diet, the specific types they consume may vary depending on their current habitat, local resources, and overall availability.

To supply these hummingbirds with nectar in your backyard, it is common for people to set up sugar-water feeders. Such artificial feeders are of great interest to both Rufous and Allen’s hummingbirds. Since they need to consume a significant amount of nectar daily to maintain their energy levels, you can attract these birds by offering them sugar-water in feeders, especially during their migration periods.

In summary, both Rufous and Allen’s hummingbirds primarily feed on nectar from various flowers, particularly penstemon, and supplement their diet with insects and spiders. Using sugar-water feeders in your backyard can help attract these magnificent birds and support their nutritional needs.

Nesting and Breeding Differences

When it comes to nesting, Allen’s and Rufous hummingbirds have some differences. Female Allen’s hummingbirds build their nests primarily using lichen, plant fibers, and spider webs. They prefer to construct their nests on branches of trees or shrubs, often near a water source. On the other hand, Rufous hummingbirds build their nests with similar materials, but they also use birch bark and pine needles. Their preferred nesting locations are in coniferous forests, mainly on branches of spruce or fir trees.

During the breeding season, both species exhibit unique behaviors. Allen’s hummingbirds usually have an earlier breeding season than Rufous hummingbirds, with females laying their eggs as early as January. In contrast, Rufous hummingbirds typically start breeding around March. Though their breeding seasons may vary, both species tend to lay two eggs in each clutch.

As for the appearance of juveniles, there are some notable differences. Juvenile Allen’s hummingbirds have green backs and an orange throat, while juvenile Rufous hummingbirds display a greater extent of rusty coloration on their back and flanks. In the case of female and immature male Allen’s hummingbirds, they have bronze-green backs, while most Rufous hummingbirds have copper backs. However, some male Rufous hummingbirds do have green backs, which can make identification challenging.

During incubation, the female hummingbird takes sole responsibility for the eggs. The female incubates the eggs for approximately 15-18 days, after which the chicks hatch. It takes around 20-26 days for the sparrow-sized chicks to fledge and become independent after hatching. The female continues to feed and care for the chicks throughout this period.

By understanding these distinctions in nesting and breeding habits, you can better appreciate the unique characteristics of both Allen’s and Rufous hummingbirds.

Songs and Calls

As you explore the world of hummingbirds, you’ll come across two species with striking similarities: the Rufous Hummingbird and Allen’s Hummingbird. Distinguishing between these two can be challenging, especially when it comes to their songs and calls.

The Rufous Hummingbird is known for its vibrant coppery tail, while the Allen’s Hummingbird has a more subdued copper-green tail. One of the key differences to help you identify them is their sounds. Rufous Hummingbirds have a sharp “tchee-ip” call, often given when they are in flight or defending their territory. Their songs, though less common, are a series of rapid, metallic “tchit” notes. This species has a unique way to make sounds using their wings, creating a buzzing noise as they fly by.

The Allen’s Hummingbird, on the other hand, has a variety of calls and sounds. Their common call is a series of soft, nasal “chee” notes. Males have a distinct flight display, which starts with them swinging in pendulous arcs, then climbing high into the sky and diving back down, making a sharp squeal created by their tail feathers. This sound is used to impress females during the breeding season.

When comparing the Rufous and Allen’s Hummingbirds to other species like the Calliope Hummingbird or Anna’s Hummingbird, you’ll find subtle differences in their sounds. For instance, Calliope Hummingbirds have a softer, higher-pitched “tsit-tsitt” call and a brief, buzzy song. On the other hand, Anna’s Hummingbirds have a scratchy “tschick” call, and their song consists of a series of high-pitched notes.

To differentiate between these hummingbirds, pay close attention to their color patterns, wing measurements, and calls. The combination of these features will help you accurately identify each species. Remember, it’s always important to keep an eye out for details, as each bird species has unique characteristics that set them apart. So next time you see a hummingbird dart by, listen carefully to its calls and songs, and you might just be able to tell whether it’s a Rufous, Allen’s, Calliope, or Anna’s Hummingbird.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the key differences between Rufous and Allen’s hummingbirds?

The primary differences between Rufous and Allen’s hummingbirds lie in their physical appearance and range. Rufous hummingbirds have wider outer tail feathers compared to the narrower tail feathers of Allen’s hummingbirds. Rufous hummingbirds also have a longer migratory pattern than Allen’s hummingbirds, which are mostly found in California.

Which regions are part of the range for Allen’s and Rufous hummingbirds?

Allen’s hummingbirds have a more limited range, nesting mostly in California, while Rufous hummingbirds have a broader migration range. They can be found in areas extending from Alaska to Mexico. Allen’s hummingbirds can also be found in well-wooded suburbs and city parks, while Rufous hummingbirds can sometimes be found in high mountain meadows during late summer.

How to identify male and female Rufous hummingbirds?

To identify male and female Rufous hummingbirds, pay attention to the shape of their tail feathers. In males, the outer tail feather (R2) has a distinctive notched tip, while in most females and juvenile males, this tip appears “pinched.” Female Rufous hummingbirds also tend to have a less vibrant coloration than males, with a more muted appearance of the rufous-orange feathers.

Is Allen’s or Rufous hummingbird more aggressive?

Although both Rufous and Allen’s hummingbirds are small in size, they are known to be quite aggressive. However, studies have shown that Rufous hummingbirds are generally more territorial and assertive than Allen’s hummingbirds in defending their feeding areas and nests.

How do Anna’s and Allen’s hummingbirds differ?

Anna’s hummingbirds are larger and have a more extensive gorget (throat feathers that often have iridescence) compared to Allen’s hummingbirds. Allen’s hummingbirds have distinctive green backs and a shorter tail, while Anna’s hummingbirds have a coppery-red head and back, giving them a distinct appearance.

What flowers do Allen’s hummingbirds prefer?

Allen’s hummingbirds prefer tubular flowers that allow them to easily access nectar using their long bills and tongues. Some garden favorites include sage, fuchsia, and coral bells. Planting these flowers can help attract Allen’s hummingbirds and provide them with an excellent source of nectar. By offering a variety of colors and flower shapes in your garden, you can ensure that these beautiful birds have plenty to feed on.


  2. 2
  3. 2

Leave a Comment