The ruby-throated hummingbird is Missouri’s smallest bird, and also one of its most popular birds. The way these tiny creatures hover around feeders and dart in and out of flowers have made hummingbird watching a popular activity for generations of humans.
Species: Ruby-throated hummingbird
Scientific name: Archilochus colubris
Claim to fame: The ruby-throated hummingbird is Missouri’s smallest bird, and also one of its most popular birds. The way these tiny creatures hover around feeders and dart in and out of flowers have made hummingbird watching a popular activity for generations of humans. Hummingbirds are now feeding extensively in preparation for upcoming migrations and young birds born earlier in the year will be coming to feeders so expect to see much activity at hummingbird feeders in the weeks ahead.
Species status: Ruby-throated hummingbirds are found throughout Missouri. Ruby-throated hummingbird populations are stable here and in other parts of the country. This is due, at least in part, to the increasing number of people who are putting out feeders.
First discovered: The first scientific description of the ruby-throat was written by the famed naturalist Carl Linnaeus in 1758.
Family matters: Ruby-throated hummingbirds belong to the family Trochilidae, a group known as the hummingbirds. Hummingbirds occur only in the Western Hemisphere. The majority of the 320 species of hummingbirds live in the Central and South American tropics. The ruby-throat is the primary hummingbird species found east of the Rocky Mountains.
Length: Three inches
Diet: The primary natural food of hummingbirds is the carbohydrate-rich nectar of flowers. Hummingbirds probe their long bills deep into the center of flowers and, in the process of feeding, pollinate a variety of plants. At least one plant species – the trumpet creeper – is theorized to have co-evolved with the hummingbird. It’s long, tubular orange flowers seem to be tailored primarily to the hummingbird’s feeding habits. Of course, they also are attracted to the sugar-water mixtures that are readily available in man-made feeders. Hummingbirds also will feed on insects and spiders they may find on the flower blossoms.
Weight: one-eighth of an ounce
Distinguishing characteristics: Ruby-throats have emerald green backs, a crimson patch on their throats and a light-colored breast flecked with darker spots. Hummingbirds are known for their hovering ability, a technique which is valuable for extracting nectar from flowers. Their hovering and maneuvering capabilities are possible because of their incredibly rapid wing movements (up to 75 times per second). They are the only bird that can fly backwards.
Life span: Hummingbirds have been known to live up to nine years.
Habitat: In Missouri, hummingbirds can be found along woodland edges, gardens and in forests. They commonly nest along streams and lake shores, with nests being located in tree canopies that extend over water.
Life cycle: Hummingbirds arrive in Missouri in spring. Females build nests, which are about the size of a walnut (one inch to one and one-half inches across and one to two inches deep). The female lays two white peanut-sized eggs which hatch in 12 to 14 days. Young fledge in 18 to 20 days. If you want to feed hummingbirds, the solution you use is a simple mix – four parts water to one part sugar. Don’t add red food coloring to this solution. Instead, make sure the hummingbird feeder you buy is red (most are) or, if you’re building one, include something red among the building materials. Change the solution weekly or more often if the solution becomes cloudy. Between fillings, clean the feeder thoroughly to reduce the growth of bacteria.