This 3 ¾-inch-long garden jewel known as the ruby-throated hummingbird makes its home in swamps, woodlands, parks, and gardens in much of eastern North America. It is the only species to nest east of the Great Plains. Members of both sexes emit a soft tchew to alert other hummingbirds to their presence.
Males stake out territories at luxuriant stands of flowers or at feeders, where they aggressively defend against competing males. Other creatures, including humans, may be seen as intruders and are met with stylized displays meant to intimidate. Females are tolerated, at least to a point.
Females construct elaborate, walnut shell-sized nests on slender, downward sloping twigs in trees or large shrubs. Overhanging leaves ensure privacy during the incubation and nestling period. Two or more broods may be initiated in the Deep South, where eggs can be produced as early as late March.
Rubythroats are strongly migratory. Southward movement of adult males begins soon after the summer solstice. Females and young follow when nesting chores are finished and the fledglings are capable of finding their own food.
Huge numbers of these birds can be found at favored car stopovers along the route, such as the Gulf Coast of Texas, where the natural geography concentrates migrants into a narrow strip of good habitat. The wintering ground is primarily in southern Mexico, south through central Costa Rica. In those places, they must compete with native species and other nectar-eating birds for abundant food. A small percentage of the population spends the cold months in Florida and the coastal regions of the South.
Returning migrants often wing across the vast Gulf of Mexico, an arduous nonstop journey that takes about 18 hours if conditions are favorable. Spring arrivals in the Deep South are as early as late February, and breeding stock might not reach Quebec and Ontario until early June.
Hear the ruby-throated hummingbird: