Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby Throated Hummingbird, female

Photo by: James Arterburn

Archilochus colubris

The Ruby-Throated hummingbird is a well-known and valued pollinator in America, even though its distribution is much wider. As a migratory bird, hummingbirds only spend summers in most of the US, usually spending the winter in Central America. Hummingbirds of this species may travel up to 500 miles at a time for migration.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are two and a half to three and a half inches long, with a 3 to four inch wingspan. The bill can range from half an inch to three quarters of an inch, and is very thin, in order to draw nectar from flowering plants. Males have a shimmering, scarlet throat. Females have a lightly marked white throat, making this a sexually dimorphic species. However, the female is also distinguished by notched outer tales, marked with green, brown, and white bands. Both sexes have green metallic outer feathers on their top and creamy white feathers on the bottom (the green feathers may be more muted on the females’ heads).

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds live in woods, meadows and forest edges. They can often be found in parks and backyards. While in Central America, they’re more likely to be observed inscrubland, rather than rainforests. They will defend their food sources jealously against competition. These can also include small insects which are important protein source for newly hatched chicks and juvenile birds.

This species can beat its wings more than 50 times a second, in order to remain airborne. Because of this, they can hover and stop instantly, as well as maneuver backwards. These skills are put to good use during the courtship display. Males fly in front of their partners in a wide arc, making a buzzing noise on each pass (this motion has been described as a “pendulum”). Females usually raise their broods alone, however, with the incubation period lasting less than two weeks. The young are usually ready to fly 20 days after hatching.

Written by: Robert Gibson, an undergraduate Environmental Studies student at the University of Oklahoma