The ruby-throated hummingbird is the most widely distributed and most commonly recognized hummingbird in North America. It is the only hummingbird species to regularly breed in the eastern United States and its colorful green and red plumage is instantly familiar to many birders.
Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, Ruby-Throat
- Bill: Long and black with a very slight downward curve, very slightly longer on females
- Size: 3-3.75 inches long with 4-4.5-inch wingspan, narrow tapered wings, deeply forked tail on males
- Colors: Green, gray, white, red, black, buff, iridescent
- Markings: Dimorphic species. Male birds have a black face, bright red or red-orange iridescent throat, white chin and throat, gray-white chest and bright green back and head with darker green wings and forked tail. The red gorget may appear black in dull light or shadow. Female birds have a white chin, throat, chest and abdomen, a buff wash on their sides, very faint throat streaking and a green head and back. Female birds have white tips on their rounded tail feathers. Juveniles are similar to adult females but young males develop red iridescent spots on their throat late in the summer. Species is monotypic.
Nectar, sap, insects, spiders (See: Nectivorous)
Habitat and Migration:
Ruby-throated hummingbirds are common summer visitors in the eastern half of the United States as well as southeastern and south central Canada. The birds can be found in deciduous forests, parks, gardens and backyards, particularly areas with nectar-rich flowers and hedges. Ruby-throated hummingbirds migrate to Central America as far south as Panama in the early fall, crossing 500 miles over the Gulf of Mexico without stopping. A few records are made annually of these birds migrating along the Texas coast instead of over the Gulf of Mexico, and some ruby-throats may stay in the southeastern United States year-round in mild winters or if abundant supplemental feeding and flower sources are available.
Vagrant sightings have been recorded on rare occasions far outside the typical range, including records in California.
For more information, see the complete ruby-throated hummingbird range map.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds are not commonly vocal but do have a high pitched, sharp chatter and sharp, high “pips” they will use when threatened or during courtship displays. Chase calls have a buzzy quality. A moderate hum sound is also generated by the wings in flight.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds are strongly attracted to red and orange colors, as are most hummingbirds, and will hold their tails still while hovering to feed. Both male and female birds will use acrobatic aerial displays to defend their quarter-acre territory and they become more aggressive near food sources as they prepare for migration. When agitated, they may initiate dive displays to ward off intruders.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds are solitary birds that only come together in pairs to mate after males perform courtship displays that include large arcs with buzzing at the lowest point. These hummingbirds are polygamous. Pairs will produce 1-3 broods of 2 oval-shaped, white eggs each per year. The female parent will build the thick cup-shaped nest lined with fine plant fibers or down and trimmed with moss and lichens for camouflage, placed 5-20 feet above the ground. She will incubate the eggs for 10-16 days. After the eggs have hatched, the female parent cares for the altricial nestlings for 15-22 days. Male parents play no role in caring for the eggs or chicks.
Ruby-throats will occasionally hybridize with black-chinned hummingbirds where the ranges of the two species overlap.
Attracting Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds:
Hummingbirds are highly desirable backyard visitors. Ruby-throated hummingbirds can be attracted to nectar-producing flowers, particularly red blooms such as red columbine, bee balm, phlox, trumpet creeper and lilies. Backyard birders can also hang nectar feeders to offer additional food sources and limit the use of insecticides to give hummingbirds a healthy insect food supply. Ruby-throated hummingbirds are also attracted to active water sources, such as misters and drippers.
These hummingbirds are not endangered or threatened in any significant way, though they are at risk from a variety of threats including outdoor and feral cats, window collisions and insecticides. In their wintering grounds, habitat loss can be a concern.
- Black-Chinned Hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri)
- Broad-Tailed Hummingbird (Selasphorus platycercus)
Ruby-Throated Hummingbird - Male Photo © Hart Curt
Ruby-Throated Hummingbird - Female Photo © Gary Irwin