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Rufous Hummingbird vs Broad-tailed Hummingbird

Who struggles to identify all those speedy hummingbirds visiting their feeders? (Raises hand.) This long flocking post will help you find the best tricks for separating Broad-tailed and Rufous Hummingbirds.

Rufous Hummingbird and Broad-tailed Hummingbird
The differences between this adult male Rufous Hummingbird (left) and adult male Broad-tailed Hummingbird (right) are apparent.

For many in North America, hummingbird migration brings hope for new flying jewels and rare hummingbirds. From the Great Plains to the Pacific Coast and down to the Gulf of Mexico, two hummingbirds share striking similarities that can create identification problems for even experienced birders. While the males of these two species are easily distinguished, the females and immature birds can seem like a blend of buffy, rufous, and green colors that cannot be identified without photos. There are two quick reminders, and then we will explore identifying these hummers together!

Now, jump into these identifications, starting with the expected range of each species.


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Rufous Hummingbird Range Map

The Rufous Hummingbird breeds farther north than any other hummingbird species. Their spring migration sends them up the Pacific Coast, and their fall migration sends them down the Rocky Mountain corridor. Almost 60% of the Rufous Hummingbird population breeds in British Columbia. BC for the win.

Rufous Hummingbird Range Map
Rufous Hummingbird Range Map

Broad-tailed Hummingbird Range Map

The Broad-tailed Hummingbird breeds almost exclusively in the southern Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Madres of Mexico. In some parts of their southern range, they are year-round residents, but over 40% of the global breeding population of the Broad-tailed Hummingbird haunts the mountains of Colorado! Holy bleep!

Broad-tailed Hummingbird Range Map
Broad-tailed Hummingbird Range Map

Broad-tailed Hummingbird vs. Rufous Hummingbird: Adult Male Identification

The adult male versions of the Broad-tailed and Rufous Hummingbirds are so distinct that I would hazard a guess that my help is not needed. However, if you want a couple of tips on these identifications, do not scroll ahead to the next section yet.


Before we get too deep down the identification mineshaft, let me clear up two identification keys that are frequently used but are incorrect or of little help. First, do not use aggression to identify a hummingbird. Yes, Rufous Hummingbirds are commonly seen as bullies at feeders, but at any given moment, another hummingbird could assert itself at the feeder. Do not trust this behavior. This assumption also leads to the second issue. Just because Rufous Hummingbirds are aggressive does not mean they are larger than Broad-tailed Hummingbirds. In fact, Broad-tailed hummingbirds average a larger wingspan by almost half an inch! So get that misinformation, wrap it up in a bow, and sacrifice it to the porcelain gods to which it belongs. (Because it is crappy. It