Illustration of ruby-throated hummingbird

Illustration by H. Douglas Pratt and Sophie Webb


Map: Ruby-throated hummingbird range


The ruby-throated is the only hummer seen regularly in much of the East. Monotypic. Length 3.2–3.7" (8–9 cm); bill 14–19 mm.

Identification Primaries relatively tapered. Tail forked to double-rounded. Adult male: solid ruby red gorget with black chin and face. Adult female: throat whitish, often with lines of dusky flecks, rarely 1–2 red spots. Sides often washed buff, often brightest on rear flanks. Immature male: resembles adult female but upperparts in fall fresher, with fine buff tips; lores often darker; throat usually with ruby spots; tail slightly longer and more forked. Complete molt in winter produces plumage like adult male. Immature female: resembles adult female but fall plumage fresher; throat lacks red spots.

Similar Species Black-chinned has blunter primaries. Adult male has black throat with violet lower band, shorter tail. Females and immatures similar to Ruby-throated but generally duller green above (especially crown) and dingier below (ruby-throated bright emerald above and whiter below). Black-chinned tail less forked; often pumps tail strongly while feeding (ruby-throated usually holds tail fairly still). Problem identifications best confirmed by checking details of primary shape. See Costa’s and Anna’s hummingbirds.

Voice Call: a slightly twangy or nasal chips, chih and tchew, given in flight and perched. Also varied twittering series. Indistinguishable from black-chinned, but generally lacks strongly buzzy or sharp, smacking quality of Anna’s and Selasphorus, and distinct from high, tinny chips of Costa’s.

Status and Distribution Breeds North America, winters Mexico to Panama. Breeding: common in woodland, gardens, etc. Migration: mainly March–May, August–October. Winter: rare (mainly November–March) in the Southeast. Vagrant: casual in the West.

—From the National Geographic book Complete Birds of North America, 2006

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