Ruby-throated Hummingbird Life History

Habitat

Habitat Open WoodlandsRuby-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.Back to top

Food

Food NectarRuby-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.Back to top

Nesting

Nest Placement

Nest TreeFemales 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.

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.

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:0.3-0.3 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.
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Behavior

Behavior HoveringLike 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.Back to top

Conservation

Conservation Low Concern

Ruby-throated Hummingbird populations have steadily increased every year from 1966 to 2019, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 36 million and rates them 8 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern. 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 nearby windows that the birds might fly into.

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Credits

Dunne, P. (2006). Pete Dunne's essential field guide companion. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, USA.

Ehrlich, P. R., D. S. Dobkin, and D. Wheye (1988). The Birder's Handbook. A Field Guide to the Natural History of North American Birds, Including All Species That Regularly Breed North of Mexico. Simon and Schuster Inc., New York, NY, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2019). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2019. Version 2.07.2019. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

Weidensaul, Scott, T. R. Robinson, R. R. Sargent and M. B. Sargent. 2013. Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

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