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Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Archilochus colubris ORDER: APODIFORMES FAMILY: TROCHILIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

A flash of green and red, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird is eastern North America’s sole breeding hummingbird. These brilliant, tiny, precision-flying creatures glitter like jewels in the full sun, then vanish with a zip toward the next nectar source. Feeders and flower gardens are great ways to attract these birds, and some people turn their yards into buzzing clouds of hummingbirds each summer. Enjoy them while they’re around; by early fall they’re bound for Central America, with many crossing the Gulf of Mexico in a single flight.

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At a GlanceHelp

Measurements
Both Sexes
Length
2.8–3.5 in
7–9 cm
Wingspan
3.1–4.3 in
8–11 cm
Weight
0.1–0.2 oz
2–6 g
Relative Size
Same size as a Black-chinned Hummingbird
Other Names
  • Colibri à gorge rubis (French)
  • Colibrí garganta de rubí, Mansoncito garganta de fuego, Chupaflor rubí (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • The Ruby-throated Hummingbird beats its wings about 53 times a second.
  • The extremely short legs of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird prevent it from walking or hopping. The best it can do is shuffle along a perch. Nevertheless, it scratches its head and neck by raising its foot up and over its wing.
  • Scientists place hummingbirds and swifts in the same taxonomic order, the Apodiformes. The name means “without feet,” which is certainly how these birds look most of the time.
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbirds prefer to feed on red or orange flowers (though it's not necessary to color the sugar water you put in a hummingbird feeder). Like many birds, hummingbirds have good color vision and can see into the ultraviolet spectrum, which humans can’t see.
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbirds normally place their nest on a branch of a deciduous or coniferous tree; however, these birds are accustomed to human habitation and have been known to nest on loops of chain, wire, and extension cords.
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are eastern North America’s only breeding hummingbird. But in terms of area, this species occupies the largest breeding range of any North American hummingbird.
  • Male Ruby-throated Hummingbirds don’t stick around long. Pairs are together long enough for courtship and mating – just a matter of days to weeks. Then he’s off on his own, and may begin migration by early August.
  • The oldest known Ruby-throated Hummingbird was 9 years 1 month old.

Habitat


Open Woodland

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds occur in deciduous woodlands of eastern North America as well as across the Canadian prairies. Commonly associated with old fields, forest edges, meadows, orchards, stream borders, and backyards. On their tropical wintering grounds, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds live in dry forests, citrus groves, hedgerows, and scrub.

Food


Nectar

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds feed on the nectar of red or orange tubular flowers such as trumpet creeper, cardinal flower, honeysuckle, jewelweed, bee-balm, red buckeye and red morning glory, as well as at hummingbird feeders and, sometimes, tree sap. Hummingbirds also catch insects in midair or pull them out of spider webs. Main insect prey includes mosquitoes, gnats, fruit flies, and small bees; also eats spiders. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds sometimes take insects attracted to sap wells or picks small caterpillars and aphids from leaves.

Nesting

Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
1–3 eggs
Number of Broods
1-2 broods
Egg Length
0.5–0.6 in
1.2–1.4 cm
Egg Width
0.3–0.4 in
0.8–0.9 cm
Incubation Period
12–14 days
Nestling Period
18–22 days
Egg Description
Tiny, white, weighting about half a gram, or less than one-fiftieth of an ounce.
Condition at Hatching
Naked apart from two tracts of gray down along the back, eyes closed, clumsy.
Nest Description

The nest is the size of large thimble, built directly on top of the branch rather than in a fork. It’s made of thistle or dandelion down held together with strands of spider silk and sometimes pine resin. The female stamps on the base of the nest to stiffen it, but the walls remain pliable. She shapes the rim of the nest by pressing and smoothing it between her neck and chest. The exterior of the nest is decorated (probably camouflaged) with bits of lichen and moss. The nest takes 6-10 days to finish and measures about 2 inches across and 1 inch deep.

Nest Placement

Tree

Females build their nests on a slender, often descending branch, usually of deciduous trees like oak, hornbeam, birch, poplar, or hackberry; sometimes pine. Nests are usually 10-40 feet above the ground. Nests have also been found on loops of chain, wire, and extension cords.

Behavior


Hovering

Like all hummingbirds, ruby-throats are precision flyers with the ability to fly full out and stop in an instant, hang motionless in midair, and adjust their position up, down, sideways, and backwards with minute control. They dart between nectar sources with fast, straight flights or sit on a small twig keeping a lookout, bill waving back and forth as the bird looks around. Male Ruby-throated Hummingbirds aggressively defend flowers and feeders, leading to spectacular chases and dogfights, and occasional jabs with the beak. They typically yield to larger hummingbird species (in Mexico) and to the notoriously aggressive Rufous Hummingbird. Males give a courtship display to females that enter their territory, making a looping, U-shaped dive starting from as high as 50 feet above the female. If the female perches, the male shifts to making fast side-to-side flights while facing her.

Conservation

status via IUCN

Least Concern

Ruby-throated Hummingbird populations have steadily increased every year from 1966 to 2010, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 20 million with 84 percent spending some part of the year in the U.S., 51 percent in Mexico, and 16 percent breeding in Canada. They rate an 8 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score and are not on the 2012 Watch List. Hummingbird feeders are generally safe for hummingbirds, but they can create a problem if they make the birds easy targets for cats or if the feeders are placed around nearby windows that the birds might fly into.

Credits

Range Map Help

Ruby-throated Hummingbird Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Migration

Medium to long-distance migrant. Most Ruby-throated Hummingbirds spend the winter in Central America, and most get there by flying across the Gulf of Mexico. Some birds stay in North America along the Gulf Coast, parts of the southern Atlantic coast, and at the tip of Florida; these are usually birds from farther north rather than birds that spent the summer there.

Backyard Tips

You can attract Ruby-throated Hummingbirds to your backyard by setting up hummingbird feeders or by planting tubular flowers. Make sugar water mixtures with about one-quarter cup of sugar per cup of water. Food coloring is unnecessary; table sugar is the best choice. Change the water before it grows cloudy or discolored and remember that during hot weather, sugar water ferments rapidly to produce toxic alcohol. Be careful about where you put your hummingbird feeders, as some cats have learned to lie in wait to catch visiting hummingbirds.

Find This Bird

Find Ruby-throated Hummingbirds by wandering flowering gardens or woodland edges at the height of summer, or by putting up a hummingbird feeder or visiting a friend who keeps them. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are common in suburbs and towns, and can become quite bold, feeding at hanging plants and feeders on your porch or next to your windows.

Get Involved

Watch your feeders and report your counts of hummingbirds to Project FeederWatch

Look for Ruby-throated Hummingbird nests and contribute valuable data about them through NestWatch

The Wonders of Spider Silk: expandable nests

Western Hummingbirds in the East: How to attract, identify, and report late-season vagrants to eBird

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