Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Archilochus colubris


Early Spring Date: April 19
Late Spring Date: May 31
Most Frequently Seen: May 2-21
Has Nested in or near Park

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are common breeding birds in the Washington metro area, and some are seen each spring at Monticello Park. They begin to show up in late April and early May, and they typically can be seen during the first few weeks in May. The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the only hummingbird species who regularly occurs in the eastern United States during the spring. Some people put up sugar-water feeders for them.

Where to See Them in the Park

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the smallest and the fastest bird who visits Monticello, and you are more likely to mistake one for a large insect than for another bird species. They can be seen anywhere in the park. They dart around quickly, so they can be difficult to see. One year, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird regularly was seen perched at the top of a dead tree near the entrance to the park as if on breeding territory. Hummingbirds have probably nested in the park or the surrounding neighborhood.

Physical Description


Ruby-throated Hummingbird Male
Male - Photo by William Young

The male has a green head and back, a black chin, and a red throat. Some of the feathers on the head and throat look like sequins. The male in the above photo was caught at the banding station at Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge. He is about the size of the bander's thumb.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird Male
Male - Photo by Sharon Lynn

Many hummingbird feathers reflect light. If you see a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird in good light, his feathers look shiny green and bright red. In poor light, the throat can look dull red or black, and the head and back can look black.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird Female
Female - Photo by Ashley Bradford

Female do not have a red throat, and the head and back are more chartreuse that dark green.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird Tail
Tail - Photo by Michael Pollack

Identifying hummingbirds can be difficult in areas where multiple species occur. A key fieldmark can be the markings on tail feathers. The tail of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird has black-and-white markings which usually cannot be seen in the field, because hummingbirds open and close their tail too quickly. The outside feather has the most black and white, and each of the next two feathers has progressively less white. The fourth feather has no white, and the fifth and sixth are green.

Vocalizations

The call of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds is a soft, repeated chirp. They beat their wings faster than 50 times a second, which can generate a loud hum.

Hear the vocalizations and sounds of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

Notes

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is one of more than 350 hummingbird species. Hummingbirds are found only in the New World. The smallest bird species in the world is the Bee Hummingbird in Cuba, and it is also one of the smallest homoeothermic creatures in the world, which means they maintain a stable internal body temperature. (Scientists prefer the term "homeothermic" to the less accurate "warm-blooded".) Other types of birds can hover, but hummingbirds are the only birds capable of flying backwards.

Origin of Names

Common Names: Ruby-throated from the red-throat. Hummingbird from the sound made by the beating wings.
Genus Name: Archilochus means "chief among men", which could mean "first among birds".
Species Name: Colubris is a serpent, but this is probably a misspelling of colibre, which is a hummingbird.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird video footage

Return to the Index