Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

Archilochus colubris

ruby-throated hummingbird

Ruby-throated hummingbird, photographed at Fort Jefferson, Garden Key, Dry Tortugas National Park, Monroe County, In April 2017.

There are 338 species of hummingbirds in the world, all living in the Western Hemisphere. But if you catch a glimpse of one flitting about in Florida, chances are pretty good that it's this guy, Archilochus colubris. The ruby-throated hummingbird.

It is the only hummingbird that breeds in North America east of the Great Plains. They are strictly migratory birds but can be seen in Florida year round albeit in different regions at different times. Ruby-throated hummingbirds will breed spring through fall in northern Florida, but can be seen in South Florida during winter. There have been verified sightings of ruby-throated hummingbirds nesting as far south as mainland Monroe County, but they are rare, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Their greater range extends into Canada, as far west as Alberta and Saskatchewan south to Texas. In winter, they retreat to South Florida, Mexico and Central America. Some ruby-throated hummingbirds will make the journey directly across the Gulf of Mexico, while others will follow the coastline through Texas to points south.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are tiny, only three inches long and weigh about a quarter of an ounce. They are constantly on the move, hovering here, darting there, and consequently almost constantly feeding. Their wings beat between 50 and 200 times a second, creating the namesake buzz.

They have the biggest appetite in relation to their size of any creature on the planet. They burn so much energy that they would literally starve to death overnight except for two adaptations — a heart rate that drops dramatically and the ability to lower their body termperature.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are green on the heads, backs and sides and gray-white underneath. Only mature males have the iridescent red, the result of air bubbles in the throat feathers that give off red tones in full light, according to the University of Florida.

Food for ruby-throated hummingbirds is mostly nectar taken from flowers with elongated throats, usually red or orange in color. They'll take insects on the fly or pick them off leaves as they hover. They will rob the occasional spider's web, sometimes raiding its pantry, sometimes taking the occupant itself. They like semi-open habitats.

In Florida, nesting season begins in April. After a brief courtship, males pretty much skedaddle, leaving everything else up to their mates. Females build cup-shaped nests about the size of a walnut using grasses and vegetation bound together with spider silk. The chosen spot is usually well concealed in a tree about 10 to 20 feet off the ground. The nest is further camouflaged with lichens and other material. Clutches are typically two eggs, each about a half-inch in diameter. The eggs require about two weeks of incubation, give or take a day or two; the hatchlings mature in about three weeks. At first mom, feeds her offspring insects, but switches to nectar over time. A female can have two or three broods per season.

There are two other hummingbirds that can be spotted in Florida, the black-chinned and rufous, but they are only occasional visitors. Ruby-throated hummingbirds are members of Trochlidae, the hummingbird family.

Fort Jefferson, Garden Key, Dry Tortugas National Park

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Published by Wild South Florida, PO Box 7241, Delray Beach, FL 33482.

Photographs by David Sedore. Photographs are property of the publishers and may not be used without permission.