"Coffee Bird": Ruby-throated Hummingbird


The Ruby-throat weighs less than a nickel but, like other hummers including the Calliope and Mangrove, is a master of flight. Beating its wings 60 to 80 times a second, the bird creates a blur of motion and a whirring, insect-like sound. It’s easy to mistake one for a bee at first glance.


Many people are familiar with this bird, but fewer know that it migrates as far away as Central America, where it can be found overwintering on shade coffee farms. That’s another reason to drink shade-grown, organic, Bird Friendly® coffee!


Wintering Grounds


Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are one of dozens of migrant songbirds found overwintering in places like Gaia Estate in Nicaragua, a farm that produces certified Bird Friendly® coffee for Birds & Beans. In a bird survey conducted by naturalists Kenn and Kim Kaufman, it was estimated that “the number of northern migrants present on the 90 acres of Gaia Estate was certainly over 1,200, possibly over 3,000, representing a significant density of wintering birds from North America.” Naturally, land cleared to grow cheaper “sun” coffee supports far fewer species of birds.


Supporting Bird Friendly coffee produced by farms like this one is an easy way to help ensure a future for Ruby-throated Hummingbirds and many other migrants.  (Read “Saving Birds with Coffee” by author Scott Weidensaul.)



Fast Fliers


Ruby-throats fly straight and fast, but can also hover in place and move up, down, or even backwards. These little birds migrate vast distances to their wintering grounds in Mexico and Central America, many crossing the Gulf of Mexico in one marathon flight.


They expend a great deal of energy during flight, so hummingbirds must feed almost constantly, consuming up to half of their weight in sugar each day. They feed mainly on flower nectar, preferring red or orange tubular flowers such as trumpet creeper, cardinal flower, jewelweed, and bee-balm.


Ruby-throats also readily visit hummingbird feeders for sugar water and even drink tree sap. In addition, they feed on tiny insects, plucking them from the air or from spider webs. Males aggressively defend food sources against intruders.


Conservation Needs


Although this species is not endangered, Ruby-throats are frequent victims of window collisions. (You can help prevent bird collisions with ABC BirdTape, an inexpensive and long-lasting solution.)


Ruby-throats regularly fall prey to cats and other predators. Habitat loss is also a threat; fortunately, shade-coffee farms provide safe havens for these hummingbirds and other migrants on their wintering grounds.


Breeding, Nesting, Surviving


This is eastern North America’s only breeding hummingbird. Males have an elaborate courtship display, swooping down into a looping, U-shaped dive from as high as 50 feet above any female that enters their territory. After mating, the female is on her own, building a walnut-sized nest of lichens and spider web, and providing all care for the young.


On cold nights, a Ruby-throat can conserve energy by lowering its body temperature and heart rate, entering a temporary state of torpor. The next morning, the hummingbird speeds up its metabolism and gets its body temperature back up to normal within a few minutes.