Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)
prepared by Paul Nicholson. May, 2023
At just 8 cm in length, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird is London’s smallest bird. The species gets its name from the colour of the adult male bird’s throat. All photos by Paul Nicholson
The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the only hummingbird that is regularly seen across Southwestern Ontario. It is a species that can enchant even non-birders. These elfin creatures are so tiny that they sometimes resemble insects more than other birds. With a length of just 8 cm and a weight of approximately 3 grams, these birds weigh about as much as a nickel. Despite their size, the birds are mighty and can defend territory with aggression.
Apart from the birds’ size, key identifying features are relatively short wings and a relatively long bill. A long, slightly decurved bill helps the bird to feed on the nectar of trumpet-shaped flowers. Other natural food sources include mosquitoes, gnats, and other small insects. As many backyard bird watchers know, this is a species that will also be attracted to nectar feeders. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is one of many good sources of information about feeding hummingbirds.
Although the Ruby-throat’s wings are small, they can flap at a stunning 80 beats per second. The wings can also rotate approximately 180° allowing the birds to hover and fly backwards.
Taxonomically, hummingbirds are in the Apodiformes order which in Greek means footless, a nod to these birds’ tiny feet.
Most Ruby-throated Hummingbirds overwinter in south Mexico and Central America, and breed in eastern North America. They arrive back in the London area every May, and they fly south again in September.
The male establishes the nesting area each spring, however it is the female that builds a tiny cup-shaped nest that is covered in moss or lichen. Not only that, once the eggs have been fertilized, the female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds attend to all of the incubation and parenting.
Male Ruby-throated Hummingbirds can live approximately five years. Females live longer.
Interestingly, hummingbirds are named for the humming sound made by their rapidly-beating wings as they dart around. They do also vocalize with a series of quick, distinctive chip sounds. Hummingbirds are similar to parrots and songbirds in sharing the ability to learn complex vocalizations. Young birds will learn to produce calls from their parents.
Listen to the Ruby-throated Hummingbird’s vocalization below:
Neither female nor young male Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have the distinctive ruby throat patch that the species is named for.
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are frequently seen in and around London through the breeding season. You might well see one of these birds if you think like the bird. Stop, look, and listen in backyards, meadows, and other areas where there is a good supply of their food.
Help make London more friendly to Ruby-throated Hummingbirds:
If you have a hummingbird feeder, ensure it is washed regularly to prevent disease.
Keep pet cats indoors or leashed while outside to prevent them from predating on hummingbirds and other birds.
Retrofit your home windows using bird-friendly materials to prevent bird-window collisions.
Support the protection of natural habitats that hummingbirds need for food, shelter and breeding.
Grow native plants in your yard.
Avoid use of pesticides.
Reduce your ecological footprint as much as possible.
Participate in citizen science initiatives such as recording hummingbird sightings in eBird.