Ruby-throated Hummingbird

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Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Archilochus colubris
Class: Aves
Picture credit to Steve Maslowski
Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird
The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is so small and it's flight so amazing that some may mistake it for a large insect, with the hum from it's wings hence it's name. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds fly straight and fast but can stop instantly, hover, and adjust their position up, down, or backwards with flawless control.

They measure in length 2.8–3.5 inches (7–9 cm). The wingspan is 3.1–4.3 inches (8–11 cm) and weigh 0.1–0.2 oz (2–6 g) which is no more than a penny!

The male has an emerald green back, iridescent ruby red throat, gray flanks, forked tail with no white and is smaller than the female. The female also has an emerald green back, white breast and throat, rounded tail with white tips. She is larger than the male and has a longer bill. The young of both sexes look like the adult female. In August and September, young males may develop some red spots on the throat.

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird has one complete molt per year, which may start during the fall migration and continue into March. Young males will acquire the full ruby throat color during their first molt.

Picture credit to Gary Bridgman
Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Picture credit to Gary Bridgman
Gender identification is simple if the light is right, as the red throat of the male is unmistakable. Although, the shape and presence of white on the tail (female or young) is a more reliable, depending on the time of the year.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds live in open woodlands, forest edges, meadows, grasslands, and in parks, gardens, and backyards.

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. They will catch insects in midair or pull them out of spider webs. Insect food includes mosquitoes, gnats, fruit flies, and small bees and spiders. They sometimes take insects attracted to sap wells or pick small caterpillars and aphids from leaves.

Some Interesting facts about Ruby-throated Hummingbirds

  • 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.
  • It scratches its head and neck by raising its foot up and over its wing.
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbirds prefer to feed on red or orange flowers. Like many birds, they 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.
  • Another creature you may see on the Trail could be the Hummingbird Moth which is a bit slower in flight than the hummingbird but is very similar to the rapid wing pattern, when both are so quick and hard to see them.

Hummingbird Moth

Hummingbirds migrate to Central America, some flying solo nonstop across the Gulf of Mexico, about 600 miles, which takes 18 to 24 hours. They leave sometime in September, and return to Minnesota toward the end of May.

Ruby throated Hummingbird rangemap


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.

The female builds the nest on a slender, often descending branch, built directly on top of the branch rather than in a fork. They are usually found in deciduous trees such as oak, hornbeam, birch, poplar, hackberry, and sometimes pine. Nests are usually 10-40 feet above the ground. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have the smallest net, about the size of half a walnut shell. They use spider web silk, thistle, or dandelion down, linchens, moss, and spit or sometimes pine resin.

She will stamp 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 camouflaged with bits of lichen and moss. The nest takes 6 to 10 days to complete.

Ruby throated Hummingbird females lay 1 to 3 white eggs, each about the size of a pea. After about two weeks incubation time the eggs will hatch. The young are naked apart from two tracts of gray down along the back. The eyes are closed and the young are clumsy. The nesting period is between eighteen and twenty two days.

Click for Ruby throated Hummingbird sounds
The foreground "twitter" & the wings humming.

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