Rufous vs Allen’s: Hummingbird Look-Alikes

Updated: Apr. 23, 2024

Similar field marks and overlapping ranges make it difficult to identify a rufous vs Allen's hummingbird. Learn how to tell them apart!

Birding Challenge: Rufous vs Allen’s Hummingbird

rufous vs allen's hummingbirdCourtesy Trish Nevan
To identify a Rufous hummingbird, look for an orange back and tail.

You might call these hummingbird lookalikes a real humdinger. It’s tricky to tell rufous vs Allen’s hummingbirds apart, largely because of their orange plumage and overlapping ranges. Thankfully, there are a few tricks you can use to determine whether you’re looking at an rufous or Allen’s hummingbird. Here’s how.

Learn to identify 15 types of hummingbirds found in the United States.

Rufous Hummingbird Identification

A male rufous hummingbird

Adult male rufous hummingbirds have a uniformly orange back and tail, though some have glimmers of green. The second feather from the middle of their tail has a notched tip that’s visible when the tail is fanned out.

As far as observable behaviors, males dive in oval shape around perched females. That said, they can show variation when practicing or defending their territory. Their range covers a wide swath of western states, including Alaska and the Rockies.

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Allen’s Hummingbird Identification

Adult Male allen's hummingbirdAGAMI PHOTO AGENCY/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO
Male Allen’s hummingbird

To identify a male Allen’s hummingbird, look for an overall a mix of orange and green on adult males; females and juvenile males are nearly identical in hue to rufous. An Allen’s outermost feathers are slimmer and pointier than the rest.

When flying around perched females, males do so in a “J” shape. Their range is restricted to West Coast in breeding season, and Southern California and Arizona during migration.

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Key Differences: Range and Field Marks

allen's hummingbirdCourtesy Stuart Allison
An Allen’s hummingbird has green feathers on its back.

Perhaps the clearest and most easily spotted difference between rufous vs Allen’s hummingbirds is the clear presence of green feathers on the back of an adult male Allen’s hummingbird. On rufous hummingbirds, that green coloration is less prominent.

Also worth noting is the differences in ranges between these birds. In the United States, birders can find Allen’s hummingbirds in the lower halves of Arizona and California during migration, and along the California and Oregon coasts during breeding season. This isn’t the case for the rufous, which has a more extensive range covering a large portion of the western United States.

Complicating it all further, ornithologists have pinpointed a 200-mile zone in Oregon and California where rufous and Allen’s hummingbirds interbreed. Hybrid individuals display tiny differences in their tail shapes and courtship behaviors. Talk about a tricky bird to identify!

Next, learn how to identify an Anna’s hummingbird.


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