Ruby-throated HummingbirdArchilochus colubris (Linnaeus)
Status Fairly common in summer. Breeds. Distributed throughout the province in urban and wild areas, generally arriving by mid-May (average 12 May, earliest normal date 1 May). An untimely individual in a Yarmouth garden from 17 to 19 April 1977 was almost three weeks ahead of the next reported. It routinely has been last recorded in October (average 3 October, latest normal occurrence 6 November). However, it should not be assumed that all very late hummingbirds, like the female in Halifax on 1 December 1979 (M. Verpoorte), are in fact Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (see next two species).
Description Length: 7.5-9.5 cm. Adult male: Top of head and back bright glossy green; tail dark grayish brown and forked. Throat patch iridescent, showing coal-black at one moment and ruby-red the next; breast whitish, sides dark with greenish tinge. Bill long and needle-like. Adult female: Upperparts similar to male, but outer ends of her feathers are beautifully and broadly tipped with satiny white, and tail is not forked. Underparts whitish with no throat patch.
Breeding Nest: About the size of half a walnut shell; composed of plant down, covered externally with bits of gray lichen held in place by spider's web and delicate plant fibres; saddled on a horizontal twig and seldom more than 9 m from the ground. It nests in gardens and orchards, but as often in wooded areas far from human abode. Eggs: 2; white, elliptical ovate in shape. A nest containing two fresh eggs was found at Caledonia, Queens County, by Harold F. Tufts on 12 June 1909. It was about 6 m up on a horizontal limb of a tamarack in a remote wooded area. Another at Greenwich, Kings County, contained two fresh eggs on 2 July 1918. It was situated about 9 m up a large spruce growing near a flower garden. On 16 July 1930 a nest in an apple tree contained two well-developed young, one of which flew that day and the second the day following. A nest at Berwick, Kings County, on 10 July 1940 containing two eggs was about 2 m from the ground, saddled typically on the twig of an apple tree. The eggs in this nest hatched on 21 July; by noon on 12 August the second young one had flown. A nest at Newport, Hants County, contained two half-grown young on 30 June 1943. It was situated about 3 m up an apple tree and was a "double-decker," the nest of that year having been built on top of the previous year's, the line of demarcation clearly visible. About six days are required to construct a nest and the female does all the work. When the eggs are laid the male leaves his mate and normally does not see her again.
Range Breeds from Alberta east to Nova Scotia and south to the Gulf States and Florida. Winters from Florida and Louisiana south to Panama.
Remarks Poets and naturalists struggle to find adequate phrases to describe the fairy like elegance of this tiny bird. To attempt a description of the jewel-like iridescence of its plumage is difficult, for the colours, like those of a prism, change with every movement. When a hummingbird hovers over a flower, it looks as if standing on air.
This tiny species twice has been seen chasing larger birds, in one case a robin and in the other a nighthawk. On each occasion the pursuer, close on the tail of the larger bird, appeared to be flying along at leisurely speed while the pursued was exerting full wing power to free itself from its spiteful tormentor.
Gillian Rose tells of watching a ruby-throat closely following a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker which in its characteristic manner was boring holes in the bark of an old apple tree. The "hummer" was poking its needlelike bill into one hole after the other to drink the sweet sap as the larger bird progressed, not an uncommon practice for hummingbirds.
The metabolism of hummingbirds is very rapid. They must eat often to keep their "engines" humming, and this they do during daylight hours. From "bedtime" to the break of day they must fast. In order to conserve their energy during this period of no food intake, they not only sleep but become torpid, their body organs barely functioning. I have seen this only once. A neighbour phoned to say he had a hummingbird that must be "sick." It had been perched on a low, dead twig since dark and had refused to fly when he touched it. On arrival I found a male ruby-throat perched on an ornamental shrub close to the verandah. I tried to pick it off gently, but it would not relax its grip. I snapped off the twig, placed the bird in a box, and brought it home to administer to its ailment, whatever it might be. Thinking the bird might be cold, I wrapped it in warm cotton wool and left it in the box still clinging to its twig. Next morning I was much relieved to find it had fully recovered, for it buzzed off quite normally. It was not until some months later I chanced to read that hummingbirds become torpid at the approach of darkness to conserve energy.
There are over 300 species of hummingbirds and the range of most of them is limited to tropical regions. The ruby-throat is the only one that normally comes to eastern Canada. All species of hummingbirds are confined to the New World, none occurring outside the Americas.
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