TAYLOR COUNTY—Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have begun making appearances among the West Virginia hills. Ruby-throated hummingbirds are the only native hummingbird species known to breed in West Virginia.
Archilochus colubris is the scientific name for Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. They arrive in West Virginia around April and stay until October. They migrate medium to long distances and spend winter in Central America, often flying across the Gulf of Mexico. The males are known for their ruby-red throat as well as a white collar and emerald, green plumage while the females are less vibrant with green plumage and banded white, black, and greyish green tails.
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds enjoy nectar from sources such as “trumpet creeper, cardinal flower, honeysuckle, jewelweed, bee-balm, red buckeye and red morning glory, as well as at hummingbird feeders and, sometimes, tree sap,” according to allaboutbirds.org. Interestingly enough, they also are omnivores and are keen on insects such as gnats, fruit flies, small bees, and spiders.
The females like to build their nests in oak, birch, poplar, hackberry and pine trees. It is also noted that nests are typically built 10 to 40 feet above the ground! Allaboutbirds.org describes nest size and structure stating, the nest is the size of large thimble, built directly on top of the branch rather than in a fork. It’s made of thistle or dandelion down held together with strands of spider silk and sometimes pine resin. The female stamps on the base of the nest to stiffen it, but the walls remain pliable. She shapes the rim of the nest by pressing and smoothing it between her neck and chest. The exterior of the nest is decorated (probably camouflaged) with bits of lichen and moss. The nest takes 6-10 days to finish and measures about 2 inches across and 1 inch deep.” Furthermore, the incubation period is described as being between 12 to 14 days and the nestling period ranges between 18 and 22 days.
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are precision flyers. They have the “ability to fly full out and stop in an instant, hang motionless in midair, and adjust their position up, down, sideways, and backwards with minute control. They dart between nectar sources with fast, straight flights or sit on a small twig keeping a lookout, bill waving back and forth as the bird looks around.”, said allaboutbirds.org. Male ruby-throats are considered somewhat aggressive and will actively defend their feed sources. Males are also known to display some pretty outrageous behavior flying in U-shaped dives to court females that enter their territory.
“Ruby-throated Hummingbird populations have steadily increased every year from 1966 to 2014, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 20 million with 84% spending some part of the year in the U.S., 51% in Mexico, and 16% breeding in Canada. The species rates an 8 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score.”, as reported by allaboutbirds.org.
Attracting Ruby-throated Hummingbirds is fairly easy. It is recommended to set up hummingbird feeds or plant tubular flowers. The Smithsonian National Zoo and Conservation Institute provided a recipe for hummingbird food as seen below.
Refined white sugar
Directions for making safe hummingbird food:
Mix 1 part sugar with 4 parts water (for example, 1 cup of sugar with 4 cups of water) until the sugar is dissolved.
DO NOT add red dye.
Fill your hummingbird feeders with the sugar water and place outside.
Extra sugar water can be stored in a refrigerator for up to two weeks. Watch for mold!
Change feeders every other day and thoroughly clean them each time to prevent harmful mold growth.
The Smithsonian National Zoo and Conservation Institute also said that tap water is fine! They also recommend only using regular table sugar as corn syrup, powdered sugar, honey, or dye can have added ingredients that can harm birds.
Hummingbirdcentral.com has an interactive map with migration information and sightings of various species of hummingbirds. Migration is reported to be quite a feat and data has indicated that a hummingbird can travel up to 23 miles in one day. Hummingbirds are also noted to gain up to 40% of their body weight prior to migrating in an effort to sustain their travel of both land and water. During migration, a hummingbird will flap it’s wings up to 80 times a second and their heart will beat up to 1,260 beats a minute. As the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds arrive from their long trek from Central America, be prepared to welcome them with some sweet nectar sources to replenish themselves.