The Ontario Hummingbird Project
Understanding the life cycle of Ontario's hummingbirds
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Ruby-throated Hummingbird
(Archilochus colubris)
Class: Aves
Order: Apofiformes
Family: Phaethornithinae
Female in August
Female in August

Description: The adult male is easy to identify in good light with his spectacular ruby red gorget (throat) and emerald green back. His tail is entirely green and has a deep V-shaped notch. The male is smaller than the female with a shorter bill.

The adult female has an emerald green back with a white throat and breast. Her tail is shorter than the male and more rounded with white tips.

Immature males and females are almost identical to the adult female and very difficult to tell apart except when the young male is starting to grow gorget feathers.

Hatch year male with one gorget feather
Hatch year male with one gorget feather

Breeding: The ruby-throated hummingbird is the only hummingbird known to breed in Eastern Canada. Female hummingbirds do all the work when it comes to raising a family. The male does not help beyond fertilizing the eggs. The female builds the nest, feeds and cares for the nestlings.

Ruby-throated hummingbird nest
Ruby-throated hummingbird nest

Ruby-throated hummingbirds usually nest in decidious trees about 20 feet from the ground but nests have been found in small shrubs, on christmas tree lights, and other unusual places between 5 and 50 feet high. The nest is made of thistle or dandelion down and the female attaches lichens to the outside with spider webs to make it virtually invisible. The entire nest will fit on a "Toonie" and is about an inch high. A penny will not quite fit inside.

The female lays 2 white eggs that are each about the size of a pea. It takes 12-14 days for the eggs to hatch and the nestlings don't look much like hummingbirds with their short, stubby bill. They stay in the nest for about 3 weeks while the female brings them a steady diet of insects.

Status and Conservation: The number of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in Ontario is difficult to estimate and more study is needed. Banding studies in the United States have shown that male hummingbirds live at least 7 years and females up to 9 years. Natural predators that kill hummingbirds include shrikes and Sharp-skinned Hawks. Rarely Blue Jays or other species of bird, frogs, praying mantises, fish and spider have been observed capturing and eating hummingbirds. Hummingbirds sometimes die after becoming trapped by the sticky seed heads of burdock (an introduced species from Europe). Unnatural causes of death include collisions with windows, cars, communication towers, pesticide use, and predation by domestic cats.