It might be the most well-known hummingbird of all. The Ruby-throated hummingbird is probably the species that comes to mind when you think of hummingbirds. These flying jewels, as they are sometimes known, can be seen at the edge of forests, in meadows, and along the edges of streams.
This article focuses on the Ruby-throated hummingbird, which ranges from southern Canada all the way to Central America. We’ll investigate a bevy of traits, facts, and behaviors of the Ruby-throated hummingbird. Buckle up and let’s get started!
Scientific name: Archilochus colubris
Weight: 2-6 g
Our ruby-throated friends are versatile and adaptable creatures. Curious and outgoing, they are commonly seen at feeders in the summer months. They are native to habitats east of the Great Plains.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds may be the most iconic of all hummingbird species. With their classic color palette of green, white, and red, they stand out from other backyard birds. Males are more brightly colored than females, but females are larger.
Males are about 3.4 g – slightly smaller than females. They make up for their smaller size by having a beautiful red throat patch, also known as a gorget. This iridescent patch of feathers is used for courtship displays and can be puffed up in territorial conflicts.
Light reflects unevenly off the gorget and can even make it appear black from some angles.
While females are slightly bigger than males, averaging 3.8 g, their drab coloring makes them harder to spot. Her throat is only white, with no red coloring. Some female Ruby-throated hummingbirds may have streaks on their necks as well.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds are fiercely independent creatures. Males and females live alone when it isn’t mating season.
Both males and females are extremely territorial. They will defend their favorite flowers and feeders by any means necessary, including jabbing competitors with their beak! They use their high-precision flying skills to outmaneuver competing birds, whether that’s other Ruby-throated hummingbirds, other hummingbird species, or nectar-loving insects.
It’s easy to attract Ruby-throated hummingbirds to your backyard. They are known to be a curious and investigative species of hummingbird. They quickly grow accustomed to humans.
We recommend putting out a feeder or two. Just remember to distance them far apart. You don’t want territorial hummingbirds fighting!
Ruby-throated hummingbirds may be popular nationwide, but they live primarily in the eastern half of the United States and southern Canada. During migration season, they fly south into Mexico and Central America. They rest there until spring, when they make the return trip back to the US.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds have the largest breeding range of all the United States’ hummingbirds. They mate, nest, and raise chicks in the United States during the spring and summer.
Like other hummingbirds, Ruby-throated hummingbirds are nectar-eaters. They sip nectar from flowers with their long, thin tongues. Ruby-throated hummingbirds specifically prefer to dine upon the nectar in tube-shaped red or orange flowers.
The eastern United States supports a variety of flowering plants that fit this bill, including honeysuckle, cardinal flower, trumpet creeper, bee-balm, and the red morning glory.
Interestingly, Ruby-throated hummingbirds will also get up to a third of their dietary calories from eating small insects. They are known to snatch insects out of spiders’ webs and catch flies in midair.
They may also dine on sugary sap that they find in sapsucker wells left by sugar-loving woodpeckers.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds are native to the meadows, intermittent forests, and streamside environments common in the deciduous forests of the eastern United States. They naturally prefer the transition zones between habitats, such as the area between woods and open fields.
This means they adapt well to suburban developments and backyards. They love moving water and enjoy having vegetation of varying heights. Flower gardens are an especially beautiful and easy way to attract them too.
When migrating in Mexico and Central America, Ruby-throated hummingbirds avoid jungles. They prefer tropical scrub areas with more light and visibility. They are known to inhabit citrus groves, drier forests, and areas with lots of shrubbery.
Mating & Nesting
When males and females do interact, it’s a sight to behold. At the beginning of breeding season, usually in early spring, males claim a territory and watch for any females that enter.
When a female ventures into the male’s territory, he approaches her and performs an elaborate courtship display. The male Ruby-throated hummingbird dives in a U-shaped formation around the female. He may dive from up to 50 feet up in the air!
The male’s goal is to get the female to perch on a nearby tree or shrub. If she does, he continues trying to impress her by quickly flying in lines in front of her. She accepts him by bowing and ruffling her tail feathers.
After mating, females make their tiny thimble-sized nests several yards up in trees or tall shrubs. Using her long beak, she builds a nest made out of spiderwebs, blades of grass, and soft fibers. She disguises the outside of the nest by coating it with dead leaves and bits of lichen.
After finishing her nest, the female lays one to two jelly-bean sized eggs. She raises the chicks on her own. It takes just over two weeks for a chick to hatch, and three weeks for the chick to grow and fledge out of the nest.
Females feed their chicks by regurgitating nectar to them. When chicks are bigger, they may also bring them insects for an additional bit of protein.
Most female Ruby-throated hummingbirds incubate one nest per season. Some, however, incubate two. If she does, she’ll build her second nest while feeding her first brood.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds migrate south in the fall. Around early August, males and females begin flying south for the winter.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds are notorious for their high levels of endurance. Many of these birds cross part of the Gulf of Mexico on their way to Costa Rica, one of their favored migration spots. Other populations make a return migration from Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula to Florida, a distance of 500 miles!
Scientists studying that journey found that these tiny birds stored up twice the amount of fat they had in non-migration seasons. This gave them energy to cross the Gulf of Mexico, a nonstop 20-hour journey.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds are common across thousands of acres of habitat in the eastern United States and Canada. According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, populations increased every year from 1966 to 2019. Ruby-throated hummingbirds are doing well.
However, habitat fragmentation and human development can threaten the fields, meadows, and forest edges in which the bird dwells.
To help support Ruby-throated hummingbird populations, you can provide reliable food sources in your backyard. Try setting up a hummingbird feeder with one part white sugar and four parts clean water.
If you want a more low-maintenance option, plant red or orange flowers in your yard. They’ll be a self-sustaining source of nectar for your neighborhood hummingbirds.
Encourage your neighbors to plant native species in their yards. You could even get involved with municipal landscaping projects, to select plants that will be hospitable for hummingbirds.
How to attract ruby-throated hummingbirds
Attract the Ruby-throated hummingbird by offering sources of food, shade, or water. Because Ruby-throated hummingbirds can be territorial, consider placing multiple feeders far apart. This will allow other hummingbirds to safely enjoy nectar without feeling threatened.
Install a hummingbird feeder adjacent to existing trees in your yard. The hummingbirds will enjoy having a safe, shaded spot to rest in between sips of nectar.
Add a bubbler to your bird feeder. A bubbler provides a multi-level platform that a hummingbird can easily navigate with its small feet. Bubblers imitate moving water, creating a healthier environment that will attract more birds.
Facts about Ruby-throated hummingbirds
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds live a long time
The oldest wild Ruby-throated hummingbird ever caught by a human was just over nine years old when she was banded in West Virginia in 2014.
In the wild, most female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds live to be about seven years old. Territorial and aggressive males have a shorter lifespan of just five years.
You can befriend Ruby-throated hummingbirds
Ruby-throated hummingbirds can become accustomed to humans with a little effort. If you want to train one to feed from your hand, slowly move your existing hummingbird feeder closer to your house.
You can also refill the hummingbird feeder during the morning, their peak visiting hours. When the birds see you providing them with nectar, it may teach them over time to associate you with food. You’ll have Ruby-throated hummingbirds zooming by you in no time!
The Ruby-throated hummingbird is the only breeding hummingbird in eastern North America
There are a few other hummingbird species that visit lands east of the Great Plains, but the Ruby-throated is the area’s only inhabitant that mates and nests there. This may be due to the Ruby-throated hummingbird’s territorial and aggressive nature.
Check out this article for even more facts about ruby-throated hummingbirds!