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Rare Species Fact Sheets

Hummingbird Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

Scientific Name
(Archilochus colubris)

Life History:
Hummingbirds are among the smallest birds in the world. Three hundred nineteen (319) species of hummingbirds occur throughout the western Hemisphere. Twenty-one (21) species occur in the United States, but only 8 of those species are present well above the Mexican border. Of these 8 species, only the ruby-throated hummingbird is found in West Virginia. This tiny bird gets its name from the male's ruby red throat. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are migratory birds -- present in West Virginia only during the breeding season. These lively migrants can most easily be seen feeding on nectar from flowering plants and at feeders.

Hummingbirds usually build their nests in open woods, saddled on the branch, limb, or twig of a maple, beech, birch, hornbeam, or hemlock, from 5-20 feet above ground. The nest is compactly built of soft down from ferns, milkweed, fireweed, thistles and young oak leaves. Spiders' webs are used to keep it in place. The outside of the nest is typically decorated with lichens or mosses. Eggs are laid from mid-April to July. Two white eggs about the size of a pea are incubated for 16 days. Young fly about 20-22 days after hatching. Hummingbirds will usually nest twice each nesting season, but have been known to nest 3 times in one year.

When flying, the hummingbird's heart beats more than 600 times a minute; its wings beat about 75 times per second. A hummingbird is capable of traveling at speeds up to 60 miles an hour. Hummingbirds are the only birds capable of flying backwards.

In fall, when the flowers begin to fade, the hummingbirds begin their migration southward to their winter range. Do not remove your feeders until you have not observed any hummingbirds for at least a few weeks. During this time, hummers are on the move, and your feeders may be providing much needed energy to birds passing through. Contrary to popular reports, feeders will not encourage hummers to stay later than they should. The birds that we see at our feeders toward the end of the breeding season are often late fledglings. After building up a substantial supply of fat, they cross the Gulf of Mexico and move to their winter range in Central and South America. Each spring ruby-throated hummingbirds move northward from their winter range, cross the Gulf of Mexico and continue north to breeding areas in the eastern U. S. and Canada, arriving in West Virginia about mid-April.

Plants that attract Hummingbirds:
Hummingbirds are most attracted to red flowers. Other brightly-colored flowers with a bell or tube-like shape are also attractive to hummingbirds. They are especially attracted to flowers like wild columbine, trumpet-creeper, bee balm, bleeding heart, cardinal flower, jewelweed, scarlet sage, phlox, petunia, nasturtium, gladiolus, and morning glory; flowering shrubs, such as butterfly bush, hardy fuschia, rose-of-sharon, and weigela; and flowering trees, such as black locust, horse chestnut, yellow (tulip) poplar, and mimosa.

Tips on planting:

  1. Locate flowering plants close to cover and perch sites, such as groups of shrubs. If possible, place plants so you can watch hummingbirds feeding;
  2. Plant a variety of food sources that bloom at different times to provide nectar all summer long;
  3. Select species and varieties suited to your climate, soil and light conditions;
  4. If the plant is a vine, provide a trellis or similar structure;
  5. follow correct planting and maintenance procedures for your area.

Ask your local nursery owner for more information.

Hummingbird feeders need not be intricate or expensive. Many fine feeders are commercially available. When selecting a hummingbird feeder, choose one that is easy to fill and clean. Make sure that all parts of the feeder can be reached for easy cleaning. The feeder should also have some red coloration, which attracts hummingbirds. You may need a feeder with bee guards, which are small plastic screens that are placed over the feeder ports to deter bees but allow the bird to insert its long bill into the nectar. Hummingbird feeders should be placed in the shade, protected from the wind and near some perching sites, such as tree and shrub branches. Don't hang feeders near an electric fence with red or yellow post insulators, as hummingbirds may be attracted to them. Nectar solutions for feeders are available commercially, however, this is a needless expense. You can make a sugar solution yourself. The sugar solution should be 4 parts water to 1 part sugar (ex: 1 cup water + cup sugar). Heat to dissolve the sugar, and let the solution cool. Fill the feeder with the solution and place any extra solution in the refrigerator. This solution closely replicates the natural nectar of many flowers used by hummers. Do not use honey, brown sugar or other sweeteners in feeders. Honey and other sweeteners promote the growth of harmful bacteria. Also, do not use red food coloring in feeders. Some scientists report that red food coloring may harm hummingbirds. Food coloring is also not needed because a little red color on the feeder itself is usually enough to attract the birds. Clean feeders every 5-7 days in order to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. Throw away the old solution and rinse the feeder well with hot water. Do not use soap or detergent. The feeder can be cleaned by using a vinegar solution and some uncooked rice grains and shaking vigorously. Be sure and keep your feeders filled with fresh sugar solution: empty or dirty feeders may cause hummingbirds to seek other feeders. Hummers also eat flower nectar and high-protein insects. In addition to your feeder, it is important to also provide natural nectar sources (flowers) and habitat areas where small insects thrive, such as shrubs and unmowed grasses.

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