Although Ohio is home to a variety of birds of Ohio, like swans, hawks, warblers, sparrows and more, the
smallest bird commonly found in Ohio is the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird. These interesting
birds are eastern North America’s only breeding hummingbird and tout impressive
characteristics despite being only 2.8-3.5 inches long and weighing between 0.1-0.2 ounces.
Through information about Ohio birds as well as their behavior and migration, we can learn more
about these fascinating hummingbirds.
The Ruby-Throated hummingbird, or Archilochus colubris, is a brightly colored bird with
slightly down-curved bill and short wings.
They are sexually dimorphic, which means that eachsex exhibits different characteristics, like size, weight, color, and secondary sex characteristics.
The male’s ruby-colored throat patch is bordered on the top with a soft black and their forked
black tails have a violet sheen.
The females, on the other hand, have a white throat which may beplain or marked with dusky streaks. Their tails are notched with outer feathers banded in green,black, and white.
The hummingbirds’ plumage is highly directional and may appear black from
varying angles. The males tend to be slightly smaller than females and also have shorter bills.
The juvenile males typically resemble adult females, but have heavier throat markings. The
hummingbirds’ plumage is molted once a year on the wintering grounds, between early fall and
ending by late winter.
The Ruby-Throated Hummingbird is a bold and inquisitive bird, who is rarely bothered by the
presence of humans.
They are impressive fliers; capable of speeds of 25 miles an hour thanks to more than 50 wing beats per second. Despite this super speed, they are able to stop instantly, hover, and adjust their position up, down, or backwards with excellent control.
Unfortunately, their elegance in the air does not carry over to their movement on the ground, as their short legs prevent them from walking or hopping.
They do, however, have the ability to scratch their head and neck with their foot. Like most birds, the Ruby Throats have good color vision and unlike humans, they can even see colors on the ultraviolet spectrum.
Like many other species of hummingbird, Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds mostly eat small
insects and drink nectar from tube shaped flowers. Their favorite colors, and therefore favorite
flowers to feed from, are red, orange, and pink.
If you would like to see them in your backyard in Ohio, try planting Trumpet honeysuckle, Cardinal flower, Bee balm, or putting up a hummingbird feeder.
Despite being extremely small, Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds normally eat 1.5 – 3 times their body weight each day. This humongous appetite is a result of their fast metabolism,which is among the fastest in the world.
This may be both a blessing and a curse, since the hummers are forced to visit hundreds of flowers each day, and are always only a few hours away from starvation.
This is where an evolutionary, energy-conserving tactic called torpor comes in. Torpor is a deep sleep-like state where both the heart rate and body temperature are substantially decreased.
This is said to reduce the hummingbirds’ energy consumption by almost 50 times. The birds will go into this state at times they will not be able to find food, when they are sleeping, when it is rainy, or storming.
Another unfortunate disadvantage is that it can take up to an hour for the hummingbirds to come out of this state, during which they could be vulnerable to a predator or environmental danger.
Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds are solitary creatures. They are not social amongst other birds,
and instead are typically aggressive and defensive of territories and or food sources.
The only time they will tolerate another bird’s company is for courtship and mating, which is quite brief. When the males return to the United States and Canada in late March, they will begin
establishing and defending territories.
When the females return about a week later, the males will perform dives through the air as a courtship display. The dives are typically between 8-10 feet above the female and 5-6 feet to each side of her. If she is impressed by either the male’s dives or his territory, they will mate.
The birds do not create breeding pairs, and instead, likely choose a partner each breeding season. The females are exclusively responsible for the nesting and rearing of the young.
The female Ruby-Throated Hummingbird will begin by choosing a suitable branch between 10-40 feet of the ground, usually in a deciduous tree like oak, hornbeam, birch, poplar, or hackberry or sometimes pine.
Her nest will be structured with wood scales or twigs, lichen on the outside, and lined with fibers such as plant down, like dandelion, and animal hair.
Being only the size of a large thimble, the nest will typically hold 1-3 eggs although 2 is the most
ideal. A few days after mating, she will lay her eggs, each of which only weighing half of one gram.
After sitting on the eggs for roughly 2 weeks, and closer to 3 weeks in colder weather, the
chicks will hatch naked and defenseless. The mother bird will feed them by regurgitation a few
times per hour until they are about 3 weeks old, when they leave the nest.
They may stay near the nest for two or three weeks, being supported and fed by their mother, while they master flying and finding food sources.
Migration and Location
In late summer and early fall, Ruby-Throated hummingbirds migrate South to Mexico, Central
America and the Caribbean islands to stay for winter.
Some hummingbirds may travel as far as 2000 miles, including a 500 mile stretch they have to fly in a single 20 hour flight over the Gulf of Mexico.
In order to prepare for this long journey, specialists say the birds double their body fat, allowing them to fly so long without stopping or eating.
They travel alone rather than in flocks or groups, and will travel every day until they reach their destination. After the winter, the hummingbirds will head back North to the United States and Canada to their breeding grounds where they’ll spend the summer months.
Since late spring and through the summer is when hummingbirds will be up North, those in Ohio should keep an eye out for them from early April to mid August.