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The adult male of this species has an emerald green back and crown, iridescent red throat, white breast, gray flanks, and a deeply forked tail. The adult female also has an emerald green back and crown, but her throat and breast are white and her tail is square. The female is also larger than the male (3-3.5 inches in length) and has a longer bill. Juveniles of either sex look like the adult female.
Distribution and Habitat
The ruby-throated hummingbird breeds throughout the eastern United States, east of the 100th meridian, and in southern Canada where there is eastern and mixed deciduous forest, and winters in southern Mexico, Central America (as far south as Costa Rica), and in the West Indies. Despite its very small size, it is capable of remarkable non-stop migrations across the Gulf of Mexico, a round trip of almost 1,000 miles.
During the breeding season, this species can be found in deciduous and pine forests and forest edges. During the winter, it lives in tropical deciduous forests, citrus groves, forest edges, hedgerows, along rivers and marshes, and in old fields. Well adapted to human presence and altered landscapes, it is also often found in suburban gardens, wooded parks, and orchards.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds eat nectar from a variety of different flowering plants, with a particular attraction to plants that produce red flowers. When nectar is scarce, they will also consume tree sap. They also take a variety of insects, including mosquitoes, gnats, fruit flies, and small bees, as well as spiders. When eating nectar, these birds hover above the plant, using their long beaks to suck out the flower's' nectar. Insects are taken on the wing, from plants, and from spider webs. They consume twice their body weight in food each day.
Males return to the breeding area in the spring and establish territories. When the females return, 7-10 days later, males court females that enter their territory by performing courtship displays. Males and females separate after mating, and the female is solely responsible for rearing the young.
The walnut-sized nest is usually built near the tip of a downsloping branch, below a leaf canopy and above a fairly open area. Constructed primarily of plant material, lichens camouflage the outside and the inside is lined with dandelion, cattail, thistle down, and/or spider silk. When the nest is complete, the female lays 1 to 3 (usually 2) pea-sized eggs, which are incubated for 10 to 14 days. The chicks leave the nest 18 to 22 days after hatching. Ruby-throated hummingbirds can raise up to three broods each year.
It is thought that ruby-throated hummingbirds can live as long as 12 years, but the average is probably 3-5 years.
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This page was last updated on October 31, 2017.