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Ruby-throated Hummingbird

(Archilochus colubris)

In North America the Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the most commonly recognized hummingbird and most widely distributed. It is the only hummingbird species to regularly breed in the eastern United States and its colorful green and red plumage is readily familiar to many hummer aficionados.

© Can Stock Photo Inc. / stevebyland

Identification Tips:

General Description

  • Bill: Long and black with a very slight downward curve, very slightly longer on females
  • Size: 3-3.75 inches long with 4-4.5-inch wingspan, tapered narrow tapered, deeply forked tail on males
  • Colors: Green, gray, white, red, black, buff, iridescent

Adult male

  • Male birds have a black face and chin.
  • The metallic ruby-red gorget/ throat may appear black in dull light or shadow.
  • Breast and belly are usually brownish-gray or gray-white.
  • The back is metallic bright green or bronze-green
  • Head is metallic dark green.
  • Wings are close to black
  • Tail is forked and feathers are pointed and entirely dark without white tips (as in the female's tail).
© Can Stock Photo Inc. / stevebyland

Juvenile male

  • Juveniles are similar to adult females but young males develop red iridescent spots on their throat late in the summer.
  • Throat may show one or several red throat feathers in late summer, but do not get a full red gorget until their first winter.

Adult Female

  • Female birds have a white chin, throat, chest and abdomen, a light brown wash on their sides, very faint throat streaking and a green head and metallic green or bronze-green back.
  • Tails are fan shaped, white tips on 3 feathers on each side of tail, rounded tail feathers.
  • Crown is metallic dark green
  • Wings are close to black

Juvenile female

  • Looks identical to mature female
  • White chin and throat with variable amounts of thin dark streaking
  • Dark, shallowly-forked tail with white tips on outer tail feathers

Similar species:

  • On the east coast of the United States no other hummingbirds occur regularly over much of its range, but there is some overlap in the southeast and Texas.
  • Black-chinned Hummingbird females are very similar and are not easily identified from the female Ruby-throateds except by trained hands.

Habitat and range and migration

  • Ruby-throated hummingbirds are regular summer visitors in the east coast of the United States as well as portions of south eastern and south central Canada. The birds can be found in deciduous forests, parks, gardens and backyards, particularly areas with nectar-rich flowers and hedges. Ruby-throated hummingbirds migrate to Central America and as far south as Panama in the early fall, crossing 500 miles over the Gulf of Mexico without stopping. A few records are made annually of these birds migrating along the Texas coast instead of over the Gulf of Mexico, and some ruby-throats may stay in the southeastern United States year-round in mild winters or if abundant supplemental feeding and flower sources are available.

  • Some sightings have been recorded on rare occasions far outside the typical range, including records in California.

  • Ruby-throated hummingbirds winter in Mexico and Central America via a nonstop flight across the Gulf of Mexico. In preparation for their journey they may double their weight.

Behavior

  • Ruby-throated hummingbirds are strongly attracted to red and orange colors, as are most hummingbirds, and will hold their tails still while hovering to feed. Both male and female birds will use acrobatic aerial displays to defend their quarter-acre territory and they become more aggressive near food sources as they prepare for migration. When agitated, they may initiate dive displays to ward off intruders.

Diet

  • These little birds eat insects and spiders, flower nectar and tree sap.
  • An adult ruby-throated hummingbird may devour double its body weight in food each day. The nectar provides the carbohydrates for energy and insects provide the proteins. A hummingbird needs much energy for its high metabolism necessary to sustain its rapid wing beat and energetic movements.

Reproduction

  • Ruby-throated hummers are the only hummingbird to breed in eastern North America.
  • The birds are very solitary outside of the breeding season.
  • They come together after the male establish a territory and court females who enters his territory. In courtship he exhibits his flying prowess that includes high arcs and diving close to the ground, and by showing off his brilliant red throat plumage.
  • They are polygamous.
  • The females provide all care for young hummingbirds. The hen build the thick cup-shaped nest lined with fine plant fibers or down and trimmed with moss and lichens for camouflage, placed 5-20 feet above the ground.
  • She regularly lays two oval shaped white eggs and incubates the eggs for 10-16 days.
  • After hatching, she feed the young for about 15-22 days.
  • Male parents play no role in caring for the eggs or chicks.
  • The female may have several families/ broods in a year.
  • Where a range intersects/ over-laps Ruby-throated will occasionally breed/ hybridize with black-chinned hummingbirds.

Longevity and mortality

  • The female seven (7) years and the male five (5) years. There is a statement that a bird was banded and recaught twelve (12) years later. I am not so sure.

Vocalization

  • Ruby-throated hummingbirds are not commonly vocal but do have a high pitched, sharp chatter and sharp, high “pips” they will use when threatened or during courtship displays. Chase calls have a buzzy quality. A moderate hum sound is also generated by the wings in flight.

Attracting Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds:

  • Hummingbirds are a highly prized backyard visitor and easily attracted. Ruby-throated hummingbirds can be attracted to nectar-producing flowers, particularly red blooms such as red columbine, bee balm, phlox, trumpet creeper and lilies.
  • Humans can attract hummingbirds by hanging nectar feeders to offer additional food sources.
  • Limited use of insecticides will give hummingbirds a healthy insect food supply. Plus, it is a great and easy compliment to searching for flower nectar.
  • Ruby-throated hummingbirds are also attracted to active water sources, such as fountains, misters and drippers.

Conservation:

  • Ruby-throated hummingbirds are not endangered or threatened in any significant way, though they are at risk from a variety of threats including outdoor and feral cats, window collisions and insecticides. In their wintering grounds, habitat loss can be an issue. Some predators include: spiders, praying mantis, frogs and one reports states seeing a large-mouthed bass jump out of the water to catch a hummer.

RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD

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Citation:
InfoNatura: Animals and Ecosystems of Latin America [web application]. 2007. Version 5.0 . Arlington, Virginia (USA): NatureServe. Available: http://www.natureserve.org/infonatura. (Accessed: February 12, 2013 ).

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