Hummingbird

Discovering the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird: Stunning Facts and Effective Tips to Attract Them

Hummingbird

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is very small, but it makes people amazed with its amazing flying tricks, lively attitude, and shiny colors. Here are some cool things to know about these hummingbirds and how to make them visit your garden.

Migration and Arrival Time

Ruby-throats spend the cold months in Central America and fly across a big sea called the Gulf of Mexico every year when the weather gets warmer. They reach the United States at different times from February to May, depending on how far north or south they are going.

You can expect to see the first hummingbird scouts in your area by these dates:

  • Southern States: February to early March
  • Mid-Atlantic and Midwest States: Mid-March to late April
  • Northern States and Canada: Mid-April through May

Males precede the females by up to two weeks on migration because they are not held up with nesting duties. So if you spot a lone hummingbird in early spring, chances are it’s a brightly colored male.

Flowers and Feeders for Hummingbirds

To attract these flying jewels to your garden, take some tips from the hummingbird’s flower preferences in the wild:

  • Choose tubular flowers in the red, orange, pink color range – bee balm, cardinal flower, trumpet vine
  • Use hummingbird feeders with a nectar mix of 1 part sugar to 4 parts water
  • Place feeders near trees and shrubs (for perching and nesting) but away from bushes (for predator protection)
  • Ensure fresh nectar by changing it out every few days before it ferments

Amazing Facts About Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds

Here are some incredible facts that highlight the dazzling talents of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds:

  • The Ruby-throat beats its wings around 53 times per second – that generates the humming sound we hear
  • An iridescent red patch on the male’s throat puffs out during its pendulum display courtship flight
  • They can fly 25-30 miles per hour and have been known to dive at speeds exceeding 60 mph
  • Their wings can beat over 200 times per second during courtship displays
  • Ruby-throats prefer red/orange flowers but will adapt to others; they see into the ultraviolet spectrum
  • They are very aggressive and territorial – will boldly chase off intruders, even large birds, from their feeding areas

With a splash of color from flowers and feeders filled with fresh nectar, you’ll soon delight in the aerial dances and energetic buzzing of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds visiting your outdoor space. Their graceful maneuvers and glittering beauty will brighten any garden. Attracting these tiny dynamos is rewarding for any nature lover

What is a Ruby-Throated Hummingbird?

The Basics of Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) is the most common and widely distributed hummingbird in eastern North America. Some key facts:

  • Size: Very small, 2.8-3.5 inches long with 3.1-4.3 inch wingspan, weighing only 0.1-0.2 oz
  • Color: Metallic green head, back, sides, wings, and tail, white chest and belly on both sexes. Males have a brilliant red throat patch (ruby throat)
  • Speed: Beats wings up to 53 times per second, creating a blur of motion and a humming sound
  • Food: Nectar from tubular flowers, sap, and small insects
  • Habitat: Found in open woods, orchards, gardens, parks, and backyards near flowers

Unique Facts About Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds are incredible flyers, with the ability to hover, fly backwards and upside down. They have very fast metabolism and must feed frequently to power their rapid wing beats and aerial maneuvers.

  • The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the only breeding hummingbird species found east of the Mississippi River
  • They have the largest breeding range of any North American hummingbird
  • Their wings rotate in a full circle which allows for precise hovering and instant stops and turns
  • They consume up to half their weight in nectar each day, visiting hundreds or even thousands of flowers daily
  • To conserve energy, they enter torpor (temporary hibernation) at night and when food is scarce

Recognizing Ruby-Throated Hummingbird by Its Feathers

The most distinguishing feature of the male Ruby-throat is its bright red throat patch. The females lack this patch and have white throats instead. Both sexes share an iridescent green back and crown, and grayish-white undersides.

In different lighting, the male’s throat can appear pink, orange, or even purple. The vibrant red only comes from the feather structure, lacking any pigment. When light hits the feathers just right, it brings out the ruby red color.

How Many Hummingbird Species are there?

Types of hummingbirds
Types of hummingbirds

There are over 350 known hummingbird species, with new species being described every year. Specifically:

  • The International Ornithological Committee (IOC) recognizes 366 hummingbird species in the family Trochilidae, distributed among 112 genera.
  • There are over 330 species and 115 genera of hummingbirds, mostly located south of the U.S.
  • Fifteen types of hummingbirds can be found living in the United States, along with nine vagrant species that occasionally wander inside the borders.

So in summary, the current total number is at least 366 established species, with more being discovered, especially in Central and South America where the majority of hummingbirds are found. The U.S. hosts only a small subset of the total diversity, with 15 regular and 9 vagrant species.

Differentiating Ruby-Throated Hummingbird from Other Species

The Ruby-throat is the only hummingbird that makes babies in the eastern part of the US, so it is not too hard to tell it apart from other hummingbirds in that area. But sometimes, other hummingbirds from the west may come to the east when they are moving to different places. Here are some things that make the Ruby-throat different from other hummingbirds:

  • Ruby-throats are tinier than the Rufous, Calliope, Broad-tailed and Black-chinned Hummingbirds that may show up in the east
  • Only the boy Ruby-throat has a bright red patch on his throat; no other hummingbird has this shiny red color
  • Ruby-throats have greener feathers on their backs compared to the more yellow or brown colors of the other hummingbirds from the west

If you pay attention, you can easily spot the Ruby-throated Hummingbird’s small size, green and white colors, and of course, the boy’s red throat.

Where Do Hummingbirds Live?

Where Do Hummingbirds Live
Where Do Hummingbirds Live

Locations Where Hummingbirds are Found

  • Hummingbirds are only found in the Western Hemisphere, primarily in Central and South America. Over 300 species exist, with less than two dozen found regularly in the U.S. and Canada.
  • In North America, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds make babies in the eastern parts of the US and Canada, and some even go as far as Alaska. They spend the cold months in Mexico and Central America.Hummingbirds live in many different places including forests with mild weather, grassy hills, hot and wet jungles, misty mountains, and even dry lands. They need the land to give them food, places to hide, spots to build nests, and things to make nests with.

Migration Pattern of Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds

  • Ruby-throats migrate north in spring from Mexico and Central America to breeding grounds in Canada. They start as early as February in southern states, reaching northern areas by late April or May.
  • In fall, they migrate south starting in late July, with stragglers crossing the Mexico border by late October. They retrace a similar route back to wintering grounds.
  • Their migration path goes across the Gulf of Mexico and follows blooming flowers north along the U.S. Eastern Seaboard.

Why Hummingbirds Migrate

  • Hummingbirds migrate to take advantage of seasonal food supplies and nesting locations. The long daylight hours of northern summers allow more feeding time to raise young.
  • While a few species have year-round residency along the Pacific Coast and southernmost states, most migrate south to escape harsh winters and limited food.

Nesting Habits of Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

Nesting Habits of Hummingbird
Nesting Habits of Hummingbird
  • Females build tiny cup-shaped nests high in trees using soft plant down held together by spider silk. They often decorate with lichens for camouflage.
  • Their nests are found 3 to 90 feet up, typically on a downward slanting branch. Ideal trees include oak, birch, hornbeam and hackberry.
  • Females lay two pea-sized white eggs, incubating for 2-3 weeks. Chicks leave the nest in 3 more weeks.

Hummingbirds in the United States and Canada

  • Of over 300 hummingbird species worldwide, only 8 species regularly occur in the U.S. and Canada. The Ruby-throated is the most widespread in the east.
  • In their breeding range, Ruby-throats are solitary and territorial, aggressively defending feeding areas. But they form groups during migration.
  • While their population increased through 2019, habitat loss across migration routes is an ongoing threat. Providing food, flowers and nesting sites helps support them.

How Fast Can Hummingbirds Beat Their Wings?

Understanding Hummingbird Flight

Hummingbirds are incredible flyers due to their rapid wing beats. Their wings can beat over 200 times per second during courtship displays. This allows them to hover, fly backwards, and perform aerial stunts.

Role of Wing Beat in Hummingbird Hovering

  • Hummingbirds hover by sweeping their wings in a horizontal figure 8 pattern. This generates enough lift to keep them suspended.
  • They can precisely maintain position to dip their beaks into flowers, even if breezy. Their wing angle and tail adjust to stay centered as they feed.

How Wing Speed Influences Hummingbird Feeding

  • Ruby-throats beat wings about 75 times per second normally and 200 times per second while courting.
  • Faster wing beats enable more flowers visited and food consumed. Hummingbirds eat up to half their weight daily to power rapid metabolism.

Role of Wing Beating in Hummingbird Courtship

  • Males perform courtship displays to attract females, diving and flying in loops. Their wings can beat over 200 times per second during these fast moves.
  • Females are impressed by males that can hover stable and perform complex aerobatics powered by rapid wing beats.

Influence of Body Temperature on Wing Beat Frequency

  • When resting or cold, hummingbirds enter torpor, slowing their metabolism. This drops their heart rate below 50 beats per minute from a normal 500.
  • As they warm up, their heart and breathing rates rise. Faster metabolism allows faster wing beats to generate heat from vibrating muscles.

So in short, hummingbirds rely on extremely fast wing beating over 200 times per second to hover, change direction instantly, and perform their incredible aerial feats. Their specialized muscles and metabolism are key adaptations that enable such rapid wing movements.

How Can We Help Hummingbirds?

Hummingbirds play an important role as pollinators. Their rapid wing beats and preference for tubular flowers specially adapted to their long bills and tongues make them excellent at carrying pollen. As habitat loss threatens many migratory hummingbird species, we can help by providing food and shelter.

Importance of Planting Tubular Flowers

Hummingbirds favor flowers with a tubular shape that matches their specialized beaks and tongues, allowing better access to nectar. Good options include:

  • Native honeysuckles, columbine, trumpet vine and cardinal flowers
  • Non-native favorites like bee balm, foxglove and coral bells

A diversity of flower colors, shapes and bloom times will support more hummingbirds over spring, summer and fall.

The Role of Hummingbird Feeders

Supplementing natural nectar with feeders provides essential food during migration, cold spells, and when fewer flowers bloom. The standard “nectar” recipe is 1 part sugar dissolved in 4 parts water. Change it every few days before it ferments or molds.

The Dos and Don’ts of Offering Sugar Water

DO:

  • Use only plain white sugar
  • Change the mixture every 2-3 days

DON’T:

  • Add honey, brown sugar, artificial sweeteners or food coloring
  • Use raw or organic sugar

Creating Safe Spaces for Hummingbirds

Creating Safe Spaces for Hummingbirds
Creating Safe Spaces for Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds need places to perch, nest and bathe. Provide:

  • Trees, shrubs and nesting materials like plant down and spider silk
  • Mist baths, drippers or shallow bird baths with rocks
  • Protection from predators like keeping cats indoors

Partnering with Conservation Programs

Getting involved with citizen science programs through groups like the Cornell Lab of Ornithology helps track hummingbird populations and supports conservation efforts.

How to Attract Hummingbirds?

Hummingbirds are delightful visitors with their glittering plumage, energetic personalities, and dazzling aerial skills. Their rapid wing beats create a signature humming sound as they hover and dart between flowers. Attract these flying jewels by providing food, shelter, and nesting spots.

Ensuring Adequate Food Supply for Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds have very high metabolisms and must feed frequently to fuel their endless motion. They get most food from nectar-rich tubular flowers and feeders with sugar-water mixes. Ensure a constant nectar supply with these tips:

  • Plant clusters of red, orange, or pink tubular flowers that bloom from spring through fall like honeysuckles, bee balm, and trumpet vines
  • Supplement with 1:4 ratio sugar-water feeders, changing nectar every 2-3 days
  • Place multiple feeders to reduce territorial battles, spacing at least 15 feet apart

In addition to nectar, provide insects and spiders which are vital protein sources. Avoid pesticides which reduce this food supply.

Choosing the Best Hummingbird Feeder

Select easy-to-clean feeders with raised nectar ports to prevent rain dilution. Clear reservoirs easily show nectar levels. Red or brightly colored feeders attract the most hummingbirds. Durability and leak protection are also key features.

Crafting a Hummingbird Friendly Garden

Hummingbirds seek food, shelter, nesting and perching spots. Ensure your garden meets these needs:

  • Plant dense clusters of tubular flowers in a variety of colors and bloom times
  • Include trees, shrubs and vines that provide nesting materials like plant down and spider silk
  • Set up perches such as branches, poles and swings for resting and preening
  • Provide open ground space for aerial displays and room to avoid predators

Importance of Red Flowers in Attracting Hummingbirds

While hummingbirds see more ultraviolet spectrum colors than humans, studies show red flowers and feeders attract the most interest regardless of actual nectar content. This is likely a learned behavior since abundant commercial feeders are red. Use red blooms like bee balm, lobelia, and fuchsia to target hummingbird vision.

Insights Into Hummingbird Breeding Season

  • Ruby-throats migrate north to breed as early as February in southern states, reaching northern areas by May
  • Females build tiny lichen or spider silk nests high in trees, laying 2 pea-sized white eggs to incubate for 2-3 weeks
  • Providing food and nesting materials from spring through summer supports breeding and nesting

Follow these tips to welcome energetic, shimmering hummingbird visitors all season! Let me know if you have any other questions.