GCBO's August Bird of the Month
Ruby-throated Hummingbird
by Mike Williams
The Ruby-throated Hummingbird, (Archilochus colubris), is a relatively common Summer visitor throughout Eastern North America, (and Southern Canada), with some overwintering in the extreme South East. It is the only Hummingbird that breeds East of the Mississippi river. Its main wintering grounds are in Southern Mexico and throughout Central America. There are no subspecies but it is often considered a superspecies with the closely related Black Chinned Hummingbird. First described by Linnaeus in 1758, the Latin name means "related to snakes" but it is much more likely the name is derived from "Arawak" for hummingbird. It is the most widespread hummingbird species.
The female Ruby-throated Hummingbird is typically larger than the male and the sexes migrate at different times, with the males arriving first to set up territory. Migration is timed to coincide with certain flowers blooming on route. The journey is hazardous. Some of these 3.5 inch long birds can fly 500 miles over open water from the Yucatan to Florida. Nests are typically built in hardwood or mixed forests by the female alone. Males are hugely territorial and constantly display to females or defend their territory. Displays include the dive display to ward off rival males and attract females and a shuttle display where a male moves in rapid horizontal arc movements with its gorget feathers erected. Once the nest is built, (from plant down, spider webs and lichen), typically 2 white eggs, (about the size of a pea), are laid. Incubation takes 11-16 days and is carried out by the female only. 

A relatively small hummingbird with medium sized straight to slightly down-curved beak. Adults have an emerald green back with a white to light gray front. The males have a ruby red gorget bordered by a thin black line and a blackish face. Has a long deeply notched tail that projects past the wing tips. The immature male resembles the female but has more extensive barring on the throat, and buffy feather edges as does the immature female.
Ruby throats can be very vocal with a high-pitched chattering.

Interesting Facts:

  • The collective noun for a group of hummingbirds is a bouquet, a glittering, a hover, a shimmer or a tune.
  • Hummingbirds have the least feathers of any bird (940 or so) which they molt every year.
  • A common belief of the past was that hummingbirds were too small to migrate across the Gulf of Mexico and so rode on the backs of larger birds. 
  • Hummingbirds breathe around 250 times a minute and have a heartbeat of up to 1200 BPM.

To download Mike Williams's photo of this cool bird, click HERE

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