Ruby-throated hummingbirds have begun returning to Virginia for their breeding season! The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the only species of hummingbird that breeds in eastern North America. These tiny, colorful birds have incredible flight skills making them a delight to watch. A passing hummingbird sounds like a buzzing bee, the sound generated by their rapidly flapping wings that beat over 50 times per second! Despite their incredibly fast speed, they can stop their flight instantly and hover. They are even able to adjust their flight path up, down, sideways or backwards with amazingly precise control.
The summer habitats for these birds include deciduous woodlands, forest edges, meadows, and near streams. They also are common in orchards, old fields, gardens, parks, and even backyards.
If you would like to attract these beautiful birds to your yard this spring, try planting tube-shaped flowers native to your area and setting up hummingbird feeders. Hummingbirds feed from these food sources by extending their long bill and tongue deep into the center of the flower (or feeder) to drink the nectar. Some of their preferred native flowers include: Trumpet Creeper, Trumpet Honeysuckle, Cardinal Flower, Bee-balm, and Wild Bergamot. Hummingbird feeders should be filled with a sugar-water mix of ¼ Cup table sugar per 1 Cup water. Food coloring is not necessary. To keep hummingbirds healthy, remember to change the water before it becomes cloudy or discolored and especially in hot weather to avoid fermentation. Hummingbirds also will eat and feed their young tiny insects, such as mosquitoes, gnats, fruit flies, small bees, caterpillars, and aphids.
Wing Noise and Chipping of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird:
Ruby-throated Hummingbird nests, like the one seen here, are very tiny (approximately 2” across) and are usually built from grasses, spider webs, and plant fibers, lined with down from dandelions or thistles, and camouflaged on the outside with lichen, moss, or dead leaves. Females usually build their nests on top of a slender branch in a deciduous tree, such as an oak, hornbeam, poplar, or hackberry. However, some birds have also been found nesting on loops of chain, wire, and extension cords. The bird in this photo nested atop a garden sculpture. Photo credit: Marshall Faintich.
Left, a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird. The throat of the male is a vivid iridescent red, but in poor lighting will appear dark. Photo credit: USFWS.