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Frequent Flyer: Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

The undisputed avian aerobatic flight champions.

Story by Lucy Elam  +  Photos courtesy of Wild Birds Unlimited

Small, bright, and literally thrumming with life, the ruby-throated hummingbird is a welcome presence on long summer days. Bursting with energy and zipping along at speeds up to 60 miles per hour, these tiny, precision-flying creatures are eastern North America’s sole breeding hummingbird. Weighing in at only 1/10th of an ounce, (about the weight of a penny), hummingbirds have the fastest heart rate, wing beat, and metabolism of any bird. Even though hummingbirds have the smallest brain of any bird, their intelligence is anything but small. These fascinating birds use spider webs as a binding agent when nest-building, and they are capable of navigating thousands of miles to migrate back to the exact same feeder year after year. Ruby-throated hummingbirds have such underdeveloped legs they are unable to walk, but they make up for that with the incredible abilities of their wings. Their wings can beat more than 50 times a second, and they are the only birds that can fly backwards and upside down. 

Flower gardens and hummingbird feeders are surefire ways to attract ruby-throated hummingbirds to your yard. You can make a sugar-water mixture of one part white sugar per four parts water to use in your feeders. Be sure to change the water before it grows discolored, and keep in mind that during hot weather, sugar water ferments rapidly to produce toxic alcohol. By early fall, ruby-throated hummingbirds will be heading south for the winter, so enjoy them while they are around.

Fun Facts

  • Hummingbirds lay the world’s smallest bird egg (about the size of a blueberry).
  • Hummingbirds can drink up to twice their body weight in nectar every day (most birds only eat ¼ – ½ their body weight).
  • The extremely short legs of the ruby-throated hummingbird prevent it from walking or hopping. The best it can do is shuffle along a perch.
  • During their migration journeys, most ruby-throated hummingbirds opt to fly non-stop over the Gulf of Mexico. This endurance run can take up to 22 hours, and, in some cases, the trip is as long as 500 miles. 

Where to see them 

  • Xeriscape Gardens
  • Coastal Discovery Museum
  • Wildflower field, Sea Pines

Hummingbird essentials

Find a full line of feeders, seeds and accessories for backyard bird feeding at Wild Birds Unlimited in Festival Centre at Indigo Park on Hilton Head Island, which is now under new ownership.

Accessories

  • Ruby-throated hummingbird mug: A 16-ounce decorative mug that showcases the ruby-throated hummingbird. Dishwasher and microwave safe.
  • Ruby-throated hummingbird towel: Part of the Field Guide collection, this soft, absorbent flour sack towel is perfect for wiping up spills or simply adding a touch of nature to your décor. Featuring illustrations by artist Sally Eckman Roberts.

Feeders

  • The high-perch hummingbird feeder is the perfect way to attract hummingbirds to any yard.
  • With the decorative window hummingbird feeder, only a window pane stands between you and the jewels of nature.

Food

  • Hummingbird nectar: 1 part white sugar dissolved in 4 parts water.