Female Ruby-throated Hummingbird © Katherine Wall
Ruby-throated Hummingbird © Katherine Wall

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Massachusetts' smallest breeding bird is also one of our most beautiful. The male ruby-throated hummingbird is unmistakable, with glossy green feathers above and a stunning gorget that glitters like its namesake. Even the females are easily identified, for this species is the only hummingbird that commonly appears in Massachusetts.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are favorites of backyard birders, and hummingbird feeders are a popular addition to your backyard ecosystems.

Frequently Asked Questions About Hummingbirds

What types of hummingbird nest in Massachusetts?

Ruby-throated hummingbird is the only hummingbird that nests in the eastern United States. There are a few others that can occur in extremely small numbers in the late fall, but they are really rare.

What are those noises I hear a hummingbird making?

The ringing/buzzing noise you hear from ruby-throated hummingbirds as they fly by is from their wings, which beat about 53 times per second. The twittering sound (often when they are acting territorial) is from their throat.

What are hummingbird nests made of?

Nests are made with fibers and lichens held together with spider webs. 

When is the best time to put out my hummingbird feeder?

Best time to put feeders out is the last week of April or the first week of May.

Do I need to add red dye to my nectar?

Red dye in the nectar in hummingbird feeders is not beneficial or harmful—but you don’t need it. Actually the color of the nectar is not important, but the color of the feeding port is what attracts the hummingbird, most feeders are red. The myth that the red dye may be harmful has never been proven in any published studies.

How do I make my own nectar?

To make your own nectar, combine 4 parts boiling water to 1 part refined white sugar. Never use unprocessed sugars as they can be harmful to hummingbirds. Let it cool before you refill the feeder and put it out.

How often should I clean my hummingbird feeder?

Feeders need to be cleaned at least each week. Cleaning more frequently is easier (no mold grows) and probably better for the birds. Choosing feeders that are easy to clean is good, too.

What do I do if I have ants on my feeder?

Don’t worry! Adults eat both nectar and insects, sometimes they will lap up the ants—sort of a surf & turf meal.

What does a hummingbird do if it can't find food?

Ruby-throated hummingbirds burn energy so quickly, they must consume more than their own weight in insects and nectar every day to stay alive. To stay alive in adverse conditions when no food can be found hummingbirds can enter a special state called torpor, similar to what we term hibernation in mammals, in which their metabolism slows down tremendously. A hummingbird in torpor is almost impossible to awaken!

What plants attract hummingbirds?

Great plants to attract hummingbirds to your garden include: bee balm (Monarda), native honeysuckle vine (Lonicera sempivirens), or pink turtlehead (Chelone lyonii). These perennials are easy to grow and look great together. You could also add some bright colored annuals—phlox, salvia,  snapdragon, or fuchsia, for example—to ensure a good assortment of blooms throughout the season.

Will hummingbirds migrate if I forget to take my feeder down?

A hummingbird will migrate even if you do not take down your feeders in the fall. All birds that migrate, including hummingbirds, do so according to a genetic predisposition. The timing of migration is most likely triggered by the length of the day, and not the availability of food. A bird which fails to migrate, due to injury, illness, or genetic miswiring may be seen at feeders off season only because of the available food there. Leaving feeders up in really cold weather can injure the hummingbird’s bill—it is rare, but still nothing you want to have happen. With this in mind it is best to take the feeders down before freezing nights become common.