Test: Common Core: 6th Grade English Language Arts

"The Ruby-throated Hummingbird"

Geographical Range and Migration

The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the sole representative of the hummingbird family in eastern North America. It is only a summer visitor in Canada and throughout the greater part of its range in the United States, excepting the southern portions of the Florida peninsula, where it winters to some extent. The majority of these birds migrate south, though, spending the winter in some of the Caribbean islands, while others pass through eastern Mexico into Central America. It usually arrives along our southern border in the latter part of March, rarely reaching the more northern States before the middle of May. It usually goes south again about the latter part of September, the males preceding the females, I believe, in both migrations. 

 

Appearance and Behavior

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have iridescent green feathers on their backs and white feathers on their bellies. The male birds have a patch of red feathers on their throats, from which the species derives its name. Both male and female Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have relatively short tails and beaks and lack any crest of feathers on their heads.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds’ flight is extremely swift, and the rapid motions of its wings in passing back and forth from one cluster of flowers to another causes a humming or buzzing sound, from which the numerous members of this family derive their name of hummingbirds. Notwithstanding the very small size of most of our hummers, they are all extremely pugnacious, especially the males, and are constantly quarreling and chasing each other, as well as other birds, some of which are many times larger than themselves. Mr. Manly Hardy writes me that he once saw a male Ruby-throat chase a Robin out of his garden. They are rarely seen entirely at rest for any length of time, and, when not busy preening its feathers, they dart about from one place to another. Although such a small, tiny creature, it is full of energy, and never seems to tire.

They seem to be especially partial to anything red. Mr. Manly Hardy writes: "I was once camping on one of the many islands along the coast of Maine during a dense fog, which had held us prisoners for several days, as it was so thick that we could not find our way. We had been living on lobsters, and lots of their red shells lay near the fire in front of our tent, when suddenly a Hummer came out of the fog and darted down at the shells, moving from one to another, seemingly loath to leave them.”

 

What Do They Eat?

There appears to be considerable difference of opinion among various observers regarding the nature of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird’s food. Some contend that it consists principally of nectar sipped from flowers, as well as the sweet sap of certain trees. Others, myself included, believe that they subsist mainly on minute insects and small spiders, the latter forming quite an important article of food with them. Mr. Edwin H. Eames, of Bridgeport, Connecticut, mentions finding sixteen young spiders of uniform size in the throat of a young Hummingbird which was about two days old.

Mr. W. N. Clute, of Binghamton, New York, writes: "The swamp thistle, which blooms in August, seems to have great attractions for the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. I have seen more than a hundred birds about these plants in the course of an hour. Since it has been stated that the bee gets pollen but not honey from the thistle, it would appear that these birds visit these flowers for insects. There is scarcely a flower that contains so many minute insects as a thistle head. Examine one with a lens and it will be found to contain many insects that can hardly be seen with the unaided eye, and if the Ruby-throat eats insects at all, these are the ones it would take; and because the larger ones remained the observer might conclude that none were eaten.” I could quote considerable more testimony showing that the Hummingbirds live to a great extent on minute spiders and insects, but consider it unnecessary.

That our Hummingbirds live to some extent on the sap of certain trees is undoubtedly true, but that they could exist for any length of time on such food alone is very questionable. They are particularly fond of the sap of the sugar maple, and only slightly less so of that of a few other species of trees. They are also fond of the nectar secreted in many flowers. While stationed at the former cavalry depot at St. Louis, Missouri, in 1873-74, I occupied a set of quarters that were completely overrun with large trumpet vines. When these were in bloom, the place fairly swarmed with Ruby-throats. They were exceedingly inquisitive, and often poised themselves before an open window and looked in my rooms full of curiosity, their bright little eyes sparkling like black beads. I have caught several, while busily engaged sipping nectar in these large, showy flowers, by simply placing my hand over them, and while so imprisoned they never moved, and feigned death, but as soon as I opened my hand they were off like a flash. 

 

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Passage adapted from "Ruby-throated Hummingbird" from Issue 3 of Life Histories of North American Birds, From the Parrots to the Grackles, with Special Reference to Their Breeding Habits and Eggs by Charles Bendire (1895)

Image adapted from Giltsch, Adolf, Lithographer, and Ernst Haeckel. Trochilidae. - Kolibris. [Leipzig und Wien: Verlag des Bibliographischen Instituts, 1904] Image. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <https://www.loc.gov/item/2015648985>.

 

1.

Which of the following can we learn from looking at the picture, but not from reading the passage?

Some hummingbirds are much, much larger than other hummingbirds—the largest are over ten times the size of the smallest.

All hummingbirds have beaks that are straight, not curved.

There are many different types of hummingbirds, and they have different appearances.

Hummingbirds eat sap and flower nectar as well as insects.

The ruby-throated hummingbird migrates.

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