We know the hummingbirds are back, so this week I will talk about a specific hummingbird, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.
The Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus Colubris) is Eastern North Americas only species of breeding hummingbird, and a common summer inhabitant of woods, parks and gardens from Central Canada to the Gulf Coast. Hummingbirds are our most unique birds, capable of flying faster than 30 mph, more maneuverable than a helicopter and about the weight of a penny. Hummingbirds as a group are found only in the Americas, with about 325 total species that mostly live in the Tropics. Seventeen species occur in the USA, thirteen breed here. In recent years, other hummingbird species are being reported in NC during winter, with five species detected as of the late 1990s.
The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is a neotropical migrant that winters mostly in Mexico and Central America. Neotropical (New World) migratory birds breed during summer in temperate North America, migrating north each spring from wintering areas, than fly back South to spend the bulk of the year in Mexico, Central or South America, or the Caribbean.
History and Status
In geographical area, this species occupies the largest breeding range of Eastern deciduous and mixed forests. A recent increase in birds overwintering in lower Florida and along the Gulf Coast may be partly due to the increase in exotic plantings and abundance of feeders. Breeding Bird Survey (BBS) data suggest that populations of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are stable or increasing. This bird is doing well in our state of North Carolina.
Identifying the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds begins with identifying the male, as it’s the most colorful and easiest to identify. The most prominent feature that the male has is its throat, which is Ruby-red color, while other features to look for include an emerald colored back and a forked tail. The female has an emerald colored back, like the male, while other features are a white colored breast, a white colored throat and a white tipped tail feathers. Some older females may develop a few red feathers on their throat, and immature males may have dusky streaks on their throat in addition to a few metallic red feathers.
Habitat and Habits
Adult Ruby-throated Hummingbirds only weigh 3-4 grams on average. Adult males typically weigh between 2.5 and 3.5 grams, while females tip the scales at 3.5 and 4.5 grams. Unlike most mammals and birds, female hummingbirds are larger than males of the same species. Adult males have bills 15-18 millimeters long, and their wing chord is 37-40 millimeters. By comparison, adult females have bills 17-21 mm in length, and their wing chord is 41-47 mm. These variations may seem small, but they can equal a 25% difference.
The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is probably the most beloved bird in our state, and its return each Spring to backyard feeders is widely celebrated.
Kate Sawaya is a Lee County Master Gardener Volunteer for North Carolina Cooperative Extension in Lee County.