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Manitoba Museum

Swifts and Hummingbirds (Apodiformes)



There are two species of hummingbirds in the Canadian Prairies: Ruby-throated and Rufous. Despite their small size, they migrate annually to Mexico and Central America. They can beat their wings an amazing 12-80 times per second, producing a distinctive humming sound. Their rapid flight allows them to hover and manoeuvre quickly. Hummingbirds need to eat 1.5 to 3 times their body weight daily. They feed on small insects, flower nectar, tree sap, and will aggressively defend their food supply.

Representative Genera and Species:

Archilochus colubris, Selasphorus rufus

Pollinator Life Cycle:

Males do not help raise the young. Females build small cup-like nests resembling knots of wood. These are concealed among branches, often close to food sources. They lay two or three pea-sized eggs, and nestlings hatch 11-17 days later. Young birds are cared for and fed by females, and leave the nest after 14-28 days. Adults overwinter in Mexico and Central America. Nesting pairs or their offspring often return to the same site annually.

Rarity Status:

These species are not considered rare in Canada. The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is listed as “sensitive” in Newfoundland/Labrador and the Rufus Hummingbird is “undetermined” in the Yukon Territory.

Physical Appearance:

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is 7.5–9 cm long. Males have green backs and heads, grey-white bellies, green and black notched tails, and brilliant ruby-red throats. Females have whitish bellies, grey-white throats, and green and black rounded tails with white tips. The Rufous Hummingbird is similar in size. Males have reddish-brown backs and bellies, white chests, brown and black rounded tails, orange-red throats, and a shiny green patch on their head. Females are larger, have brown bellies, white chests, and tails coloured brown, green, black, and white.

Pollinator Habitat:

Open woodlands, forest edges/openings, meadows, grasslands, wooded parks, old fields, orchards, stream borders, backyards, and gardens with flowers or nectar feeders. In their overwintering grounds: dry forests, citrus groves, hedgerows, scrub, shrubby openings, and oak-pine forests.

Canadian Distribution:

  • Alberta
  • British Columbia
  • Manitoba
  • New Brunswick
  • Nova Scotia
  • Ontario
  • Prince Edward Island
  • Quebec
  • Saskatchewan
  • Yukon

Prairie Types:

  • Fescue Prairie
  • Mixed Grass Prairie
  • Tall Grass Prairie