Our Wild Neighbors

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Archilochus colubris

A common sight at feeders in Eastern and Central Canada

Image of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, mounted in flight, front view with its head turned to the left.

Description of the animal

  • About eight centimetres long, from the tip of its bill to the end of its tail.
  • The male’s throat is iridescent ruby red or, depending on the angle of light, orange or at times even jet black. The female’s throat is white with a grey tinge.
  • The male’s tail is forked; the female’s rounded.
  • Shiny metallic green back.
  • Greyish white belly.
  • Long, straight bill, slender like a needle.

Habitat and needs

  • Vigorously defends its food reserves, at times even resorting to confrontation. With impressive speed, the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird easily catches up to intruders. The Hummingbird approaches and intimidates them by rapidly beating its wings and flashing its throat.
  • Eats tiny insects, flower nectar, sweetened liquid in feeders, and tree sap running from woodpecker holes.
  • Captures insects in flight or on flowers. It chooses a perch and watches them go by. To extract nectar, it plunges its long tongue into the flower’s corolla and draws the nectar out through capillary action.
  • Drinks in flight, its bill skimming the surface of an expanse of water.
  • Builds its nest on the branch of a shrub or leafy tree. The female makes the nest on her own, using spider webs, fluff from buds and cattails, and tiny pieces of lichen. She shapes the inside with her body.
  • Lays two white eggs the size of a large pea. Once they hatch, the female feeds the fledglings from her bill with food she has regurgitated. The young ones leave the nest after a 14- to 28-day period, but continue to be fed by their mother for several days. She passes them food from bill to bill in full flight.
  • Perceives ultraviolet emissions given off by flowers at certain phases of their maturation. This ability helps the Hummingbird find the most promising flowers.
  • Flaps its wings in all directions: its wing bones (humerus) move freely within the shoulder socket.

Relationship

  • The Ruby-Throated Hummingbird plays an important role in pollinating flowers.
  • In the 1970s, it returned to Canada between May 15 and 20; today, it arrives in early May and leaves again sometimes as late as the end of October. Feeders are key to its survival.
  • Scientists are interested in its migration and impressive cerebral and physiological capabilities.

Living with them

  • To attract it to your yard:
  • Grow mostly red, orange, and pink flowers with a deep corolla, which provide lots of nectar.
  • If there are no flowers nearby, put up feeders. Choose a glass model that will not deteriorate in the sun. Fill feeders with a mixture of a quarter cup of sugar per cup of boiled water. Do not add food colouring.
  • In spring and fall, prepare a more concentrated mixture; keep the feeders up as long as possible.
  • Change the water in feeders before it becomes murky: sweetened water ferments quickly in hot weather and the alcohol will poison the Hummingbird.
  • Once it has become used to a feeder, the Hummingbird will expect to find it in the same location, year after year.
  • Avoid using chemical products like pesticides. The Hummingbird is very sensitive to them.
  • Participate in regional Hummingbird watch programs by spotting banded Hummingbirds and sending information useful to scientists. What a great contribution to science!

Participating cities where this animal has been seen