The Ruby-Throated Hummingbird Feeding Preferences

These birds are very aggressive when defending their food supply and territories against predators. The hummingbirds of North America generally feed on a wide variety of plants. Their counterparts in South America feed on a single plant using their elongated or curved bills that follow the shape of a specific flower. In fact, it is believed that the hummingbird pollination has led to the evolution of 19 plant species in the eastern part of the U.S. Flowers pollinated by birds have a brighter color, curved petals, horizontal or hanging placement on the plant.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds love to feed on the nectar of more than 30 plants using their medium-length bill. In some areas of their range, they are known to prefer certain key plants. Some of these plants are the bee balm in New York and impatiens in North Dakota. To extract the nectar from flowers, the bird inserts its long tubular tongue deep into the honey wells. They usually prefer tube flowers like the bee balm and columbines. When feeding from a bigger flower with a deep well like the tiger lily, the bird pierces the calyx or the neck of the flower to extract the nectar.

Hummingbirds are attracted to flowers with bright colors like red, orange, especially those in dark shady areas. They may go to green flowers only when the background foliage is of another color. These birds are useful in the cross pollination process.

Apart from the nectar, they also feed on small insects such as flies, bees, wasps and spiders which they may see at flowers or from tree barks and sapsucker’s sap wells. At other times, these birds feed by fly catching in clouds of gnats.

At springtime, the males go back north ahead of the females and establish their feeding territories right away. The male’s territories usually contain several sources of food. They may also share the area with other males and females.

While defending their territories, both the females and males may engage in fighting. These hummingbirds use their speed and the hum of its wings to frighten intruders away. They also utilize specific flight patterns during these aggressive encounters. For instance, one bird may make a speedy horizontal U dash flying side to side around the intruder’s ears. The bird may also swing in a vertical direction similar to the motion of a pendulum. While making their flights, high squeaky notes and the humming sound of their wings are heard. These birds won’t stop intimidating the intruders until they flee.

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