A little bird goes a long way

Object of the Month: 10/2007

What is it?:

Ruby-throated hummingbird
Archilochus colubris

Age: September 11, 1973
Where was it collected:

far northeastern Minnesota (Lutsen, Cook Co.)

Accession #: Z73:10:112


Weighing just over one-tenth of an ounce, the ruby-throated hummingbird is one of North America’s smallest birds. But every fall they embark on a 3,200-mile trip from southern Canada to their wintering grounds in Central America.

In late summer they increase their food intake, storing up energy for their long-distance migration. Early researchers thought such small birds couldn’t possibly cross the Gulf of Mexico, a 500-mile flight over open water. Folk tales even spoke of “hummers” hitchhiking rides on the backs of large birds! Today, scientists believe that some ruby-throated hummingbirds do indeed make such a flight, though most travel through Texas and Mexico rather than across the Gulf.

In the spring, the ruby-throated hummingbirds’ return northward appears to coincide with the flowering of certain key plants along their route.