It always amazes me how various misinformation or myths about hummingbirds get started and just will not go away. Today’s post was inspired by one such piece of misinformation and my desire to help try to set the record strait.
In spite of the fact the fact that may people believe otherwise, the male Ruby-throated Hummingbirds do not gradually grow in a greater number of red throat feathers as they age. This is false! The male Ruby-throated Hummingbird will molt just like other birds.
Here is a brief explanation of the term molt and why it is necessary. The process of molting is when a bird will loose their feathers a few at a time. This will occur symmetrically or one from each side in order not to affect flight. How long the process takes to complete varies from weeks or months depending on the time of year it is occurring and the species of bird. This process would not be noticeable to the casual birdwatcher.
Hummingbirds will begin to molt between September and November. It will then take several weeks for each feather to regain its size and shape.
Why is molting necessary? Molting allows the bird to replace their worn out feathers with new ones. Feathers are vitally important to the bird. The feathers help provide weather protection for the bird and in some bird species (not hummingbirds) the molting process can even help the birds attract a mate.
It is possible for some immature males have a few scattered red throat feathers in late summer or early fall, but the their full red gorget is not grown in until they are ready to migrate northward from their Central American breeding grounds. Maybe this fact explains why many people mistakenly believe that male Ruby-throated Hummingbirds grow in a greater number of red throat feathers as they grow older.
This post brings to mind my mom, who I am quite sure would be very interested in the topic of today’s post and who would likely be surprised by the answer as well. It is my hope that you too will be fascinated by the subject of today’s post as well.