A route of evanescence
with a revolving wheel;
A resonance of emerald,
a rush of cochineal;
and every blossom on the bush
adjusts its tumbled head, –
the mail from Tunis, probably,
an easy morning’s ride.
Emily Dickinson, The Humming Bird
The Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) is our most distinctive bird. Except for a few other hummingbird species that occur in our area only very rarely, it’s impossible to confuse this species with any other bird. About the only organisms one may mistake for a hummingbird are the clearwing moths (Hemaris spp.), large moths with chunky bodies and rapidly moving wings that nectar at flowers during the day in much the same manner that hummingbirds do. A good look at a hummingbird, however, will reveal a long, fine, pointed bill, and iridescent green plumage on the upper parts, whitish below, and on the adult male, a stunning iridescent ruby-red patch on the chin and upper throat, called a “gorget.”
This tiny (about 3¾ inches long, with a 4½ inch wingspan) bird spends much of its time foraging on the nectar of various flowers, some of which have evolved specifically to be pollinated by hummingbirds. Some favored species in our area include Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), Bee Balms (Monarda spp.), Trumpet Creeper (Campsis radicans), and Native Trumpet Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens). When feeding at the large tubular flowers of the Trumpet Creeper, to get at the nectar available at the very back of the inside of the flower, hummingbirds sometimes must go so far inside the bloom that it is almost completely enveloped, with only its tail still sticking out. Besides nectar, hummingbirds eat many minute insects, and they will often visit the sap wells drilled by the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius) to feed on the sap of various tree species.
Favored breeding habitat is open deciduous woods, with an ample supply of appropriate flower species and may include suburban backyards, if there are sufficient flowers and scattered deciduous trees. During mating season in May and June, the pugnacious male hummingbirds are sometimes shockingly violent with one another, in fights often trying to jab at each other’s eyes with their sharp little bills. The female builds the nest out of bits of lichen and spider webs and raises the young entirely herself.
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are generally only present in our area from May to October, with most wintering in Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America south to Costa Rica. One of the most notable facts about this impressive bird is that at least some Ruby-throats fly all the way across the Gulf of Mexico in their northward migration, from the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico to the northern Gulf Coast. This journey of up to 500 miles takes a hummingbird about 18-22 hours of straight flying. This is after fattening up to sometimes twice the normal body weight of 2½ – 3 grams.
Plants hummingbird-friendly plants in your yard! They especially love native trumpet honeysuckle, bee balm, and cardinal flower.