Ruby-throated Hummingbird

 

Ruby-throated hummingbirdClose your eyes and imagine a creature with proportionally the largest brain and wing muscles in the world; one that can fly backwards and upside down, and has a tongue as long its body. Now open your eyes. What did you imagination conjure up – a pterodactyl or some exotic tropical species yet to be discovered? How about a hummingbird!?

Rudy-throated hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) are one of four species of hummers known to visit Oklahoma (the other three species include the black-chinned, rufous and broad-tailed). There are at least 319 species in the eastern half of the United States.

Measuring 3-3/4 inches and weighing only 2.5 to 3.5 grams, the ruby-throated is Oklahoma’s smallest bird. What it lacks in size, it makes up for in character. Its flying agility is matched by no other in the animal kingdom and its chief competitor for food is not other birds, but nectar-loving insects.
The ruby-throated hummingbird’s metabolic rate (the rate at which it uses energy) is the highest of any warm-blooded vertebrate except the shrew. They must consume over half their weight in sugars each day to fuel this high metabolism, creating an apparent, often-humorous sugar high not unlike that of a six-year-old after Halloween trick-or-treating. In fact, a hyper hummer’s wings beat 70 times a second while hovering and up to 200 times a second during the diving, erratic flights of courtship.

Depending on angle and amount of light, ruby-throats can appear different colors. Basically, the back and crown feathers are green on both sexes. Males display fiery red throat feathers, or gorgets, while females sport clear or faintly dotted gorgets and an additional white band on the tips of tail feathers. Immature ruby-throats resemble females until the young males begin to acquire a few red feathers on their gorgets. Identification sometimes can be extra-challenging because female black-chinned hummingbirds are practically indistinguishable from female and juvenile ruby-throats. However, especially in full sunlight, a mature ruby-throated male is unmistakable.

Ruby-throats are considered neotropical migrants, meaning they nest in North America and winter in Central and South America. Their summer range extends north as far as southern Canada. By fall, ruby-throats have gained enough weight and strength to fly back across the gulf of Mexico to return to their wintering areas. One popular myth suggests that hummers hitchhike on the backs of migrating geese, but these little birds annually prove they need no help to complete the journey.

Ruby-throated hummers start showing up in Oklahoma in mid-march and early April. Males arrive and depart first, with most leaving Oklahoma by September. Females and their young may stick around until mid-October while some stragglers occasionally stay and over winter in Oklahoma.

After arriving here in the spring, the first order of business is mating and quickly constructing a nest. Nests are not much larger than walnut shells and are made of plant down, spider webs and lichens. they're usually located 10-20 feet above the ground in the fork of a branch.

The female lays two eggs about the size of navy beans, usually one day apart. The young hatch in 14-16 days and are ready to venture out on their own after about three weeks. It is not uncommon for mating pairs to produce two or three broods in a season.

Hummingbirds have been a backyard favorite for many Oklahomans. Sugar-water feeders specifically designed for hummers can bring them close to your home for viewing. Use a formula of one part sugar to four parts boiled water, which simulates natural flower nectar. Never use honey, sugar substitutes or red food coloring in the mixture. Commercial feeders are usually red enough to attract hummers. Biologists suggest placing feeders in the shade outside a favorite window in earl April and leaving them up at least until November 1.

The ruby-throated hummingbird's iridescent beauty, amazing antics at feeders and adaptability to human existence clearly make it one ok Oklahoma's favorite "Watchable Wildlife" species.