Backyard bird enthusiasts in the central and eastern parts of the United States are familiar with the zippy Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, the males chattering, chasing, and flashing their red and green feathers as they visit feeders and flowers. These adaptable little birds show up each spring, living for a time in our gardens, in meadows, and along forest edges, spending the summer raising their families, and then heading south for the winter. Here are some facts about these pretty, feisty little birds that herald the arrival of spring.
While these birds are carnivorous at heart, they get a great deal of energy from the nectar of tube-shaped flowers, primarily those that are red and orange. They favor plants like perennial salvias, coral honeysuckle, cross vine, morning glory, trumpet creeper, and cardinal flower. Plant these in your garden to supplement the nectar in your feeders and the insects in your yard.
The hummingbirds’ favorite protein sources are small spiders and bees, mosquitoes, fruit flies, aphids, and gnats. Hummingbirds will catch some insects in the air; others are picked off spider webs and leaves.
Size and Coloring
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds weigh anywhere from two to six grams, with females being a little bigger in general than males. Their bodies can be up to 3.5 inches long; their wingspans about 3 to 4 inches across. Males are recognized by their iridescent green backs while females and immature males are a paler green. Only the mature males have the full complement of red throat feathers.
Where They Live
During the summer breeding season, Ruby-throats live in the eastern part of the United States, stretching as far west as central Texas and vertically up through the country into southern Canada.
Where They Migrate
Despite feasting on nectar, hummingbirds can’t live on sugar alone and must move south in late summer to avoid starvation when cold weather depletes the insect populations. After fueling up, Ruby-throats migrate southward through Texas, stopping anywhere from southern Mexico to northern Panama. Frequently, the old, sick and very young don’t migrate all the way down to Central America; instead they spend the winter along the southern Atlantic coast, the Gulf coast, and the tip of Florida.
As early as January, the wintering birds begin the reverse trip, gorging themselves once again and nearly doubling their weight to prepare to fly over the Gulf of Mexico. Although some follow the coastline, most go over water, making a nonstop flight of 18-22 hours that covers up to 500 miles.
The Ruby-throated Hummers lay up to three eggs, once or twice per season. Males stick around just long enough for courtship and mating. It’s up to the females to collect thistle and dandelion down to build their tiny thimble-sized nests, holding them together with spider silk. The nests are anywhere from 10 to 40 feet off the ground, built directly on top of branches, usually in deciduous trees. Eggs are incubated for about two weeks, and the nestlings fledge after 18-22 days.
Many people put out fluffy nesting material for the birds like Old Ben’s Hummingbird Cage Nesting Material.
More Fun Facts
Betcha Didn’t Know…
• The Ruby-throated Hummingbird beats its wings about 53 times a second.
• Banded birds have been known to arrive each year at the same feeder on the same day.
• The oldest known Ruby-throated Hummingbird was just over nine years old. Most of these birds only live between one and three years.
• The hearts of Ruby-throats beat about 250 times per minute while resting, and more than 1,200 times per minute while flying.
For more details on when to hang up and take down your Ruby-throated Hummingbird feeders, see this post.
Click here for an easy hummingbird food recipe.