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Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

Scientific name: Archilochus colubris

Hummingbirds are unique to the Western Hemisphere. More than 300 different kinds (species) are known, mostly from Central and South America, with a few species in the Caribbean, and at least a dozen species reaching the northern limits of their ranges in the southwestern United States. There are more different kinds of hummingbirds in the Western Hemisphere than there are different kinds of breeding birds (240) in all of New York State.

The only hummingbird to be expected regularly in New York State is the ruby-throated hummingbird. Male ruby-throated hummingbirds have a bright, iridescent, red throat (which females and immature birds do not have), and an iridescent olive-green back. The female also has an olive-green back, but with a dull white or pale gray throat and breast. The iridescent appearance of the feathers, with colors and hues changing, depending upon your angle of view, is a result of crystalline structures within the feathers.


0.1-0.2 ounces


2.8-3.5 inches

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A hummingbird must consume approximately 1/2 of its weight in sugar daily, and the average hummingbird feeds 5 to 8 times per hour. In addition to nectar, these birds also eat many small insects and spiders, and may also sip tree sap or juice from broken fruits.

A hummingbird’s metabolic demands are so high that it must enter a state of torpor to survive overnight without feeding. It is entirely dependent upon flowers for food, though it is a myth that the birds live on nectar alone, or respond only to red, tubular flowers. While they do sip nectar, hummingbirds are opportunistic insectivores, and are happy to eat invertebrates attracted to flowers of any size, color or shape. They frequently hawk insects midair, and they favor spiders.


The ruby-throated hummingbird builds a small, cup-shaped nest, about the size of a large English walnut, on thin branches of understory trees. The inner cup is lined with fine plant down and the outside is camouflaged with small bits of mosses and lichens. The hummingbird uses spider web to hold the nest together and to attach it securely to supporting twigs.


The ruby-throated hummingbird, the only common hummingbird of the eastern United States, is migratory. Its major migratory route to New York State is from its wintering quarters in southwestern Mexico, to the Yucatan Peninsula, and across the Gulf of Mexico to the United States. This is a
remarkable flight for such a small bird. Its summer breeding range is from Florida to southern Canada and from the Atlantic Coast west to the Mississippi River. Ruby-throated hummingbirds typically are found from May through September in New York and are more common in rural or suburban settings.


Ecosystem Connections

Hummingbirds in the United States are critical wildflower pollinators.

Fun Facts

A hummingbird’s wings beat between 50 and 200 flaps per second depending on the direction of flight, the purpose of their flight and the surrounding air conditions.

Hummingbirds do not suck nectar through their long bills, they lick it with fringed, forked tongues. Capillary action along the fringe of their tongue helps draw nectar up into their throats so they can swallow.



Hummingbirds are the only birds that consistently hover in flight. The unique anatomy of the bones and muscles of the wing and its attachment at the shoulder joint allow hummingbirds to fly even backward. While hovering, a hummingbird beats its wings at a rate of around 55 times per second. That rate increases to at least 75 times per second when flying forward at full speed. Male hummingbirds are very aggressive and frequently perform aerial jousts, and the J-shaped power dive of the male displaying to a female during mating season is spectacular.

A hummingbird’s maximum forward flight speed is 30 miles per hour. These birds can reach up to 60 miles per hour in a dive.

Despite their small size, hummingbirds are one of the most aggressive bird species. They will regularly attack jays, crows, and hawks that infringe on their territory.

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