Class, Order, and Family:
Class Aves, Order Apodiformes, Family Trochilidae, Subfamily Trochilinae.
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The ruby-throated hummingbird is the most common and widely distributed hummingbird in Canada. It is found in eastern deciduous and mixed forests of eastern North America. It is the only species of hummingbird that breeds there.
The legs of a ruby-throated hummingbird are too short for it to walk or hop, but it can shuffle along a perch. When it comes time to scratch its head or neck, the hummingbird raises its foot over its wing to scratch.
The ruby-throated hummingbird is a tiny bird with an iridescent green back. The male can be distinguished from the female by its iridescent red throat (the female’s throat is white). The female is also larger than the male and has three white tips on its tail feathers.
The hummingbird’s back and head are metallic bronze-green, but the male also has black spots on chin, around eyes, and ear spots, and the male’s tail feathers are dark purplish black and pointed.
The female hummingbird also has dark wing feathers, a small white spot behind the eye, and the ears are dusky. The tail feathers also distinguish the male from the female: his tail is forked whereas hers is rounded. The bill is long, straight, and very slender.
This hummingbird is 7-9 cm long with a wingspan of 8-11 cm, and weighs only 2-6 g. The hummingbird’s name comes from the distinct hum produced by its rapid wing motion. At rapid acceleration, the hum becomes a continuous high note.
Habitat: The ruby-throated hummingbird breeds in deciduous and mixed woodlands (heavily wooded or open), savannas, wetlands, parks, wooded yards, gardens, and orchards. In the winter, it is found in tropical deciduous forests, tropical dry forests, scrubland, citrus groves, and second growth.
Summer Range: The hummingbird breeds everywhere from central Alberta to Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Cape Breton, Prince Edward Island, and southward from eastern North Dakota to the Gulf of Mexico. The males arrive first during the last two weeks of May, followed by the females and young.
Winter Range: The hummingbird winters in Central America from southern Mexico to Costa Rica. They leave their northern breeding grounds in late August and early September, flying nonstop across the Gulf of Mexico to get there - an 800 km trip! The males leave first, followed by females and the young.
Food: Ruby-throated hummingbirds eat flower nectar, small insects and spiders, tree sap, and will eat at hummingbird feeders. It hovers at flowers to feed, and can beat its wings 55-75 times per second!
Ruby-throated hummingbirds show preference to feeder locations but not to feeder colours. They also catch insects in flight, pluck them from leaves, and pluck spiders from their webs.
Hummingbirds extract the nectar by inserting their long, extensible, tubular tongue into the flower’s honey wells, or in larger flowers. It pierces the neck of the blossom to extract the drop of nectar. Brightly coloured flowers (red or orange) that show up well in dark shady places are more attractive to hummingbirds.
Breeding Behaviour: The male hummingbird has an elaborate courtship display. He sweeps past the female in a 2-3 m pendulum-like sweep while making squeaky notes. After the pair has mated, the female is left to raise the young.
Nest Type and Egg Description: The nest of a ruby-throated hummingbird is an open cup on top of a small tree branch and is less than 5 cm in diameter. The female builds the nest without help. She uses cobweb and down from plants like catkins, cattails, thistle and dandelion. She cements the materials together with her bill and securely attaches the nest to the branch with sticky spider silk. She then adds bits of lichen to the outside walls to give the nest the appearance of a natural branch knob.
The nest is found at an average height of 10-20 feet, but the range is 6-50 feet. The nest is typically sheltered by leaves overhead. The eggs are white and the size of large peas: 12.2-14 mm by 8.38-9.14 mm, with a clutch size of one to three eggs, but usually two.
The incubation period is 12-14 days, and at hatching, the chicks are helpless, naked, black, and about the size of honeybees. Their first flight out of the nest is at 18-20 days after hatching. The young birds leave the nest after two to four weeks, but their mother may continue to feed them for several more weeks.
Conservation Status: The ruby-throated hummingbird populations appear stable. Poor weather, such as cold and storms, are the most serious threats.
Information on this page compiled by Colleen Sutton.
BirdLife International. http://www.birdlife.org
Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. http://www.cosewic.gc.ca/eng/sct5/index_e.cfm
Cornell Lab of Ornithology. All About Birds. http://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds/.
Ehrlich, Paul R. 1988. The Birder’s Handbook. Simon and Schuster, New York.
Godfrey, Earl W. 1986. Birds of Canada. National Museums of Canada, Ottawa.
Hinterland Who’s Who. http://www.hww.ca
Leslie, Scott. 2006.
Wetland Birds of North America. Key Porter Books, Toronto. NatureServe. InfoNatura. http://www.natureserve.org/infonatura/
Birds, mammals, and amphibians of Latin America. 2004. Version 4.1 .
Arlington, Virginia (USA): NatureServe. Available:
http://www.natureserve.org/infonatura. (Accessed: May 8, 2007 ).