Be Your Own Birder

Bird of the Week: Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

Hummingbirds are the prize jewels of the birding world in spring and summer, as they glitter and flit through flowerbeds, yards and gardens. While there are more than 300 hummingbird species in the world, none is quite as familiar, widespread and adored as the ruby-throated hummingbird.

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

Ruby-Throated Hummingbird – Photo by Matt Tillett

Name: Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, Ruby-Throat
Scientific Name: Archilochus colubris
Scientific Family: Trochilidae (Hummingbirds)

Habitat: These tiny birds prefer open woodlands, but when you’re a hummingbird, a lot of different habitats can be the perfect open woodlands to meet your needs. These hummers are often found in gardens, parks, orchards, riparian zones, meadow edges, botanical gardens and grasslands, wherever suitable food sources are available.

Range: Ruby-throated hummingbirds are the most widespread hummer in North America, and the only hummingbird to regularly breed east of the Mississippi River. Their summer breeding range extends as far west as the eastern portions of Texas and Oklahoma, and north into southern and central Canada as far west as central Alberta. In winter, these birds make a mighty migration (for their tiny size) and winter in southern Mexico and into Central America. There is also an overwintering population that stays in southern Florida and the Florida Keys.

Hummingbirds are instantly recognizable by their tiny size, hovering flight and needle-like bills. The male ruby-throated hummingbird, appropriately enough, has a glittering ruby-red throat that contrasts with a dark face and white breast. The underparts are grayish, with a gray-green wash on the flanks. The upperparts are bright green or green-gold, and the wings are black. Females lack the characteristic ruby-throat, but show delicate gray streaking on the throat and a gray smudge on the cheek. Because field marks can be difficult to see on such small, quick birds, however, range is often the best indication of this bird’s identity, since no other hummingbirds are regular guests within the eastern part of its summer range. In areas where this bird’s range can overlap with other hummers, such as the broad-tailed hummingbird or black-chinned hummingbird, identification can be more challenging.

I’ve been familiar with ruby-throated hummingbirds all my life. Long before I considered myself a birder, my grandparents had nectar feeders and we always looked forward to the cheery visits of the hummingbirds. Once I became a birder, however, I lived far outside the ruby-throat’s range, and it was only after moving back to Florida that I was able to see these birds again with any regularity. They have visited my yard, but I’m in the strange in-between part of their range and don’t see them too often in the summer, though they will stay longer in winter. They flit and flitter, sip nectar and perch nearby, buzz around other birds and always add a bit of jewel-toned color to the yard, and of course, they’re always welcome.

Want to learn more about hummers? Learn how hummingbirds are brats!

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