Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

Archilochus colubris

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Ruby-throated hummingbird in flight
Ruby-throated hummingbird in flight
Family

Trochilidae (hummingbirds) in the order Apodiformes

Description

Tiny bird with a long needlelike bill; hovers, flies forward and backward with a humming sound. Males: metallic green upperparts; red throat that flashes ruby red in the light but otherwise may look black; underparts whitish with dull green flanks; tail black and deeply forked. Females: metallic green upperparts; whitish underparts; sides pale buff; tail green at base, black in middle, with the three outer tail feathers white-tipped. Makes a variety of “chips,” squeals and twitters.

Similar species: Rufous hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) is a casual migrant frequently observed in the western half of Missouri July through November. Male has rufous upperparts, greenish head, and black tips on the tail feathers; underparts are white. Female and immatures are metallic green above, throat spotted with brown and orange-red, tail rufous at base and tipped with white. Anna's hummingbird and a few other western species sometimes migrate through Missouri, too.

Size

Length: 3¾ inches (tip of bill to tip of tail).

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Video of ruby-throated hummingbirds in the wild.
Habitat and conservation

Though most often seen around nectar feeders and in parks and gardens, hummingbirds also nest in forests and forest edges, near streams and in other wooded places. Nests, built on tree branches, are of spider webbing, lichen and other plant material, and lined with plant down. This species appears to be doing well throughout its range and is not in need of any special management. Some of the greatest threats may be from cats hunting near nectar feeders and from collisions with nearby windows.

Foods

Early-spring arrivals eat sap oozing from sapsucker-drilled holes and the insects nearby. They soon switch to eating nectar from many different kinds of flowers. During nesting, insects, a rich source of protein, are fed to the growing young. Sometimes these insects are stolen from spider webs.

image of Ruby-Throated Hummingbird distribution map
Distribution in Missouri

Statewide.

Status

Common migrant and summer resident.

Life cycle

This species begins arriving in early April; nesting starts in mid-May. May occasionally raise two broods in a season. In summer, you can see broods traveling and foraging with their parents. In August we often see a peak in numbers as northern hummers have begun to migrate through. Our hummingbirds begin migrating in mid-August; most are gone by early October. They overwinter in extreme southern Florida, southern Mexico, and even into South America, flying nonstop over the Gulf of Mexico.

Human connections

Whether they’re feeding daintily from a nectar feeder or from flowers in your garden, it’s hard to find a bird more delightful to watch. Even when these tiny territorial birds engage in aerial battles, they are simply amazing.

Ecosystem connections

Hummingbirds are important pollinators for many species of plants that require just such a long-billed pollinator. Because of their small size, hummingbirds can end up providing food for many predators that eat insects, including spiders, praying mantises, birds and frogs.