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Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Overview

The ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) is among the smallest of birds, weighing less than an ounce. They are astounding flyers that can move forward and backward as well as hover in flight. They have been clocked flying up to 60 mph. The sound produced by its rapid wingbeats led to its name. You need only to sit near a flower being visited by a hummingbird to understand.

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Description

The average ruby-throated hummingbird is 3 to 3 3/4 inches long, with a wingspan of 4 to 4 3/4 inches. The adult male has a red throat and a slightly forked tail. The red is not a pigmented color; its appearance is dependent upon the angle of light falling upon the bird's throat area. In dim or indirect light, the throat may appear black. Both sexes and all ages share the iridescent green back. Females and young of both sexes have white spots on the outer tail feathers. Juvenile males may show a few red throat feathers in late August and September, a month or two after they fledge. If observed at close range, juvenile birds can be identified by the light tan edges on their head feathers which give a scalloped appearance. These edges will wear off as the bird matures.

Reproduction

This bird nests in trees, generally those at the edge of the woods or other openings, such as along a wooded stream side. If you are able to locate the tiny nest, which is the size of half an English walnut shell, you may well find nests in the same area in future years.

Hummingbirds are polygamous breeders, meaning they do not form pairs that mate for life. Peak breeding activity occurs in June and July, and young are hatched in the same months, as the two eggs are only incubated for 14-16 days. The young are born altricial and leave the nest just 20-22 day after hatching. Usually two broods are produced in a year.

Habitat & Behavior

Hummingbirds are seldom seen in large groups; they tend to be solitary creatures throughout their lives. Where concentrations occur at feeders, the birds are extremely aggressive and frequently challenge other birds at the site. It appears that ruby throats are most common at areas where wooded edges are near water. Preferred flowers include jewelweed and cardinal lobelia, both wetland plants. They feed not only on flower nectar, but also on insects and small spiders they pluck from flowers or catch in mid-air. They are also easily attracted to artificial feeders and will use many garden flowers as a source of nectar and insects. They are seasonal residents, and there is no documentation as to how far young go to establish their own territory. They feed during daylight hours on nectar, small insects, and spiders.