Ruby-throated Hummingbird

by Kyle Sweet, The Sanctuary Golf Club, Florida Master Naturalist

Four Keys to ID
1. Size and Shape – Small hummingbird with a slender, slightly downcurved bill and fairly short wings.
2. Color Pattern – Bright emerald or gold green on the back and crown with gray underparts. Males have a brilliant iridescent red throat that looks dark in low light.
3. Behavior – They have incredible flight control, stopping instantly , hovering and adjusting their flight path up, down or even backwards. They often visit hummingbird feeders and prefer tube shaped flowers.
4. Habitat – Open woodlands, forest edges, parks, gardens and backyards.

Cool Facts
The Ruby-throated Hummingbird beats its wings over 50 times per second.
Red or Orange flowers, preferably tubular in the shape, are preferred by the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.
Ruby -throated Hummingbirds have good color vision and can see into the ultraviolet spectrum, which humans can’t see.

What a recent treat! Thanks to some very observant and knowledgeable birders at the club, I was able to see and fortunately photograph a seldom seen bird at the Sanctuary, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

This hummingbird is eastern North America’s only breeding hummingbird and occupies the largest breeding range of any North American hummingbird. With most spending the winter in Central America, they were probably visiting Sanibel on their migration north during the first few days of May.

These swift, nimble birds feed while hovering, extending its bill and long tongue deep into the center of the flower. They prefer tubular flowers, such as our native firebush that is found all throughout the island. The hummingbirds for this weeks Sweet Shot spent three days feeding on several large firebush along the edge of the course, creating quite a show. In addition to flowers and hummingbird feeders, they also catch small insects in mid-air or hover over and pluck them from foliage.

These migratories leave North America in the fall, wintering from Mexico to Costa Rica. Reportedly, South Florida also serves as a winter home for them but I’ve seldom seen them on the course or landscape over the years. When migrating, they may actually cross the Gulf of Mexico, but most travel across the eastern Texas coast on trips both north and south.

One to three tiny white eggs are laid and incubated by the female. The incubation is only for approximately two weeks. Once hatched, the incredibly small birds are fed by the female and leave the nest within three to four weeks. As young birds, they need protein to grow that can’t be provided from just nectar, so younger birds rely on insects as their main diet. The female has up to three broods per year in a nest that is typically well surrounded by leafy cover. The nest is a compact cup of grasses, plant fibers and spider webs lined with plant down and often well camouflaged with dead leaves.

With summer nearly here in Southwest Florida, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird might not be seen again until the fall migration or winter, but it’s certainly one to look forward to seeing. Fun to watch, difficult to photograph, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird is awesome and a Sweet Shot I hope to have the chance to photo again!

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