The most obvious--and perhaps most significant--ecological relationship of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) is the one it has with plants. As it searches among flowers for a sip of nectar, the hummingbird serves as an important pollinator of plants throughout its range. It is not clear whether some plants may actually be dependent on the RTHU for cross-fertilization, but there are some that are heavily visited by RTHU during prime pollination season; this is a topic worthy of further study as we learn about hummingbird ecology.

RTHUs are also predators; they prey upon myriad tiny insects that serve as the main source of protein in their diets. Analysis of the stomach contents of hummingbirds has revealed that, along with nectar and pollen, they eat flies, ants, bees, and beetles--all of which are quite small. If a hummingbird is sitting on a perch and repeatedly flies out a short distance and returns to the perch, it is probably "gnat-catching"--even if the human observer is unable to see the miniscule insects it is catching.

There are observations of RTHUs serving as prey to several different kinds of animals, including Sharp-shinned Hawks, Bullfrogs, Preying Mantises, and large Orb-weaver Spiders. Hummingbird eggs would make a tasty snack for a squirrel or chipmunk, and a tree-climbing Black Ratsnake might take an incubating or brooding female, her eggs, or chicks.

This male Ruby-throated Hummingbird is an important pollinator of Trumpet Creeper (Campsis radicans). However, if there suddenly were no hummingbirds, Trumpet Creeper would likely survive because it has other pollinators such as bumblebees. But, if all the Trumpet Creeper were to disappear, it would probably have negative impact, since it is a major nectar source from May through September throughout most of the breeding range of the RTHU.

© Bill Hilton Jr.

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