The ruby-throated hummingbird

The ruby-throated hummingbird is the only hummer to breed in the Eastern United States. (Bill Buchanan / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

The ruby-throated hummingbird, which eats in midflight, is the most widespread of all hummingbird species. How widespread is your knowledge about this incredible bird? Answers are below, along with tips for how to safely attract hummingbirds to a feeder.

1. What do ruby-throated hummingbirds eat?

A. Nectar from flowers, usually red or orange and tubular

B. Mosquitoes, gnats, fruit flies, small bees & spiders

C. Tree sap

D. All of the above

2. Which best describes a group of male ruby-throats at a feeder?

A. Aerial ballet

B. Aerial dogfight

C. Aerial huddle

D. Aerial jumping beans

3. Hummingbirds’ metabolic rates are among the highest of any animal. The average normal heart rate for adult humans ranges from 60-100 beats per minutes. Normal breathing rates for adult humans range from 12–16 breaths per minute. How high have hummingbirds’ heart rates been recorded? What is the breathing rate of a hummer, even at rest?

A. Heart rate up to 855 beats per minute; breathing rate of about 175 breaths per minute

B. Heart: 950; breathing: 200 breaths 

C. Heart: 1,045; breathing: 222 breaths

D. Heart: 1,260; breathing: 250 breaths

4. True or false? Ruby-throats’ leg are so short they cannot hop or walk? 

5. Ruby-throats have the least number of feathers of any bird. How many do they have, on average?

A. 540

B. 780

C. 940

D. 1,180

6. Because of their tiny size, ruby-throats can fall prey to insect-eating animals. Which of these abilities is not a defense against predators?

A. It emits a foul smell when being chased.

B. It can fly 25 mph.

C. Its dodging maneuvers include flying up, down, backward and sideways.

D. It can stop flying in an instant and change directions.

7. Ruby-throats mostly build their tiny, thimble-shaped nests on slender branches of deciduous trees, 10–40 feet in the air. What materials are used to make a nest?

A. Down from thistles & dandelions

B. Pine resin

C. Lichen, moss & spider silk

D. All of the above

8. Ruby-throats lay 1–3 eggs per brood, which hatch in 12–14 days. They are about the size of… ?

A. BBs

B. Cherries

C. Marbles

D. Peas

9. True or false? According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, ruby-throat populations steadily increased every year from 1966 to 2014.

10. Ruby-throats, in just one flight, travel from the Eastern United States to the edge of the Gulf of Mexico (about 1,865 miles). There, they refuel before continuing to their winter homes in Central America. That’s a lot of wing flaps! On average, how often do hummingbirds flap their wings per second?

A. 30–70 times per second

B. 40–80 times

C. 50–90 times

D. 60–100 times

Feeder Tips for Happy & Healthy Hummingbirds

Want to put out a hummingbird feeder? Here are rules to remember:

  • Place a feeder high enough so cats, which prey on birds, can’t reach it.
  • Do not hang the feeder close to windows, otherwise a bird might accidentally fly into them.
  • Table sugar is best. Do not dye the water. It isn’t necessary. 
  • Change the water before it grows cloudy or discolored, which are signs of bacteria.
  • In hot weather, change the water frequently. Heat can quickly ferment the sugar into alcohol, which is toxic.

Quiz Answers

1. D; 2. B; 3. D; 4. True, they can only shuffle along a perch; 5. C; 6. A; 7. D; 8. D; 9. True; 10. B

Kathleen Gaskell is the Bay Journal's copy and layout editor and author of the Chesapeake Challenge. Contact Kathleen at

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