Ruby-throated Hummingbird: Migration Monday

Hello! Today is the finally Migration Monday of the spring season. Can you believe that summer begins in one week? Next week I will start a new weekly feature about Summer Shorebirds (not sure which day of the week yet). The migrant I picked for today is a great lead-in to summer: the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. I plan to write more about hummingbirds in the upcoming months, but I specifically chose Ruby-throated today because it is the only hummingbird I get in my area.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)

Description:

Ruby-throated Hummingibrds are aptly named; males have a brilliant patch of ruby feathers on their throats that glisten in the sun. These tiny hummingbirds, who are about 3.75 inches tall, rapidly buzz from one nectar source to another. Rubies have emerald green bodies and slightly down-turned bills. While sitting, their wings do not reach all the way to their tail. The red throat of the males may seem dark when they are not in good lighting. Rubies are precision flyers that can stop instantly and hover while adjusting their bodies with amazing control. They are common summer visitors to flower gardens and nectar feeders.

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A  beautiful male Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Image by Paula Cannon/VIREO via audubon.org)

Range:

Medium to long-distance migrants. Winter: Central America and the southern part of Florida. Migration: Mexico, Texas, and the Great Plains region of North America. Breeding: Eastern North America and parts of Canada. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are the only Eastern hummingbird. Some migrate across the Gulf of Mexico to their wintering grounds in a single flight. Many will migrate along the coast of Texas. In the spring, males migrate north earlier than the females.

Habitat:

Deciduous wooded areas or the edge of woods, orchards, meadows. They prefer to be near flowers for their food source, so they are common in gardens and backyards. They spend time in open or dry tropical scrub while at their wintering grounds in Central America.

Food:

Nectar from orange and red tubular flowers such as honeysuckle, jewelweed, red morning glory, and trumpet creepers. They will also eat insects from spider webs or grab them from mid-air. Rubies will put their bills into flowers and extend their long tongues to eat nectar while hovering.

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Male Ruby-throated using his tongue at a flower (Image via aspensongwildbirdfood.com)

Breeding/Nesting:

To attract a female, males will make looping,  U-shaped dives from as high as 50 feet above a female while making a whirring sound. The female will construct a nest in either a shrub or tree on a horizontal branch 10-40 feet above the ground. Females will use grass, spiderwebs, and plant down to construct a nest that is the size of a large thimble. Rubies can have 1-3 broods with a clutch size of typically 2 eggs. Females incubate the eggs for 11-16 days and the young will fledge after 20-22 days. The nest stretches as the young grow.

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A female feeds her young (Image by Scott Bechtel, National Georgraphic You Shot)

Sounds:

In flight, the male’s wings create a faint high buzz. At daybreak males will make a series or monotonous chips. During the courtship dive displays, males will make a high rattling t-t-t-t.

Fun Facts:

  • Ruby-throated males will aggressively defend flowers, and may get in fights and chases over them.
  • Although they are the only hummingbird in the East, Rubies occupy the largest breeding ground of all North American hummingbirds.
  • Ruby-throated Hummingbirds can beat their wings about 53 times per second.
  • They have extremely good color vision and can see on the ultraviolet spectrum.

I have a favorite Ruby-throated moment: last summer I went river tubing at a campground. While waiting for the shuttle I discovered 6 hummingbird feeders behind the office building. There were at least 40 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds buzzing all over! I was bummed though because my phone was in the car so I couldn’t take a picture (wasn’t bringing my phone on the river!). I will never forget that moment though.  It was an amazing sight! Do you get Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in your area? Do they visit your feeder or garden? Tell me about it in the comments!

 

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Author: BirdNation

I am an avid birder, teacher, and nature lover. I primarily birdwatch throughout New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania.

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