THE RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD – Archilochus colubris
Hummingbirds are appropriately named. The humming sound you hear when they fly by is not made with their vocal chords. It is actually created by the wings flapping at an incredibly fast rate, moving so much air that an audible reverberation is produced. The ruby-throated hummingbird is named for the male’s brilliant ruby red throat. Weighing about as much as a nickel, they are masters of movement. They can fly forward, backward, upside down, and hover. They are known to reach speeds of 60 miles per hour with up to 80 wing beats per second. Their small feet are primarily for perching. The ruby-throated hummingbird is the only hummingbird regularly found in eastern North America. They are a small bird with a big appetite. They feed on energy-rich nectar that flowers provide and pollinate flowers in the process. They are easily attracted to feeders and supplement their nectar rich diet with small insects and spiders. Males establish a territory and court females who enter it with flying and diving behaviors, and by showing off their red throat plumage. Females build the nest and provide all the care for young hummingbirds.
Habitat: Deciduous woodlands, forest edges, orchards, prairies, and backyards
Flight field marks: A ruby-throated hummingbird holds its tail still when hovering.
Sitting field marks: The male’s dazzling red throat appears black when backlit; females and juveniles have white throats. Both sexes have iridescent green backs and long, narrow bills. The tail projects beyond the wingtips.
Sound: They have a squeaky, high-pitched call, and their wings produce a humming sound.
Nesting: The female uses spider webs and plant fiber to build her nest on forked branches. She typically lays two white, bean-sized eggs (1.2-1.4 x0.3-0.3) and has 2 broods per year. The eggs are laid about a day and a half apart. She incubates them for 12-14 days, and the nestlings remain in the nest for 18-22 days.
Feeding: These hummers feed on tiny insects and spiders, nectar from blossoms, and sap. While feeding from flowers, they pollinate many plants. An adult ruby-throated hummingbird may eat twice its body weight in food each day, which it burns up with the high metabolism necessary to sustain its rapid wing beat and energetic movements.
Migration: Ruby-throated hummingbirds winter in Mexico and Central America. To get there from their North American breeding grounds some birds embark on a marathon, nonstop flight across the Gulf of Mexico. They may double their weight in preparation for this grueling journey.
Lifespan: The average life span is estimated by experts to be 3 – 5 years. Most deaths occur in the first year of life. The record age of a banded ruby-throated hummingbird is 9 years.
Predators: Cats, hawks, fish frogs, snakes and lizards snatch hummingbirds for a meal. Large spiders can catch hummingbirds in their webs and ants can invade a nest and kill babies.