Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Archilochus colubris Order: Apodiformes Family: Trochilidae (Hummingbirds)
Archilochus colubris Order: Apodiformes Family: Trochilidae (Hummingbirds)
Ruby-throated Hummingbird

The only breeding hummingbird over most of the eastern United States is one of the most treasured of all backyard birds, though if hummingbirds weighed more, they’d be one of the most dangerous species on the planet due to their pugnaciousness.

When they’re present in an area, it’s fairly easy to attract hummingbirds to feeders, especially in neighborhoods where native flowering plants attract them and provide insect food. The basic recipe is a quarter cup of sugar per cup of water. During extreme heat waves, you can make that a little weaker (down to a fifth of a cup of sugar per cup of water) to help protect your birds from dehydration. During cold, rainy spells, you can use up to a third cup of water per cup of sugar.

Make sure to keep your sugar water fresh—it spoils within a day or two during hot weather, and even during cold spells should be changed at least twice a week. And never, ever use food coloring. It’s unnecessary (hummingbirds are attracted to the color red, but virtually all feeders are brighter red than colored water is), provides absolutely no nutritional value, and several studies and experts have found it to be downright unhealthy or even dangerous.

Old bird books, including my own, claim that in autumn, most Ruby-throated Hummingbirds fly non-stop over the Gulf of Mexico to the Yucatan Peninsula, but hummingbird expert Shari Williamson debunked this in 2020. Her carefully researched and wonderfully written post is very worth reading.

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird holds a place in the Guinness Book of World Records:

Ruby-throated Hummingbird: Fastest wing-beat of a bird. During courtship, the ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) can produce a wingbeat rate of 200 beats per second as opposed to the normal 90 beats per second produced by all other hummingbirds. The back and head of the hummingbird are irridescent green, the underparts are white, and the males’ throat is bright red. It is very small, only 3 in (7 cm) long and breeds from March-July. Hummingbirds in general possess the fewest number of feathers on a bird.

Wing beats are difficult to quantify, and this record belongs more to the family Trochilidae than to just one heavily studied species when other hummingbirds are likely to have even more rapid wingbeats.

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