The ruby-throated hummingbird is the smallest bird species that breeds in the Eastern United States and Eastern Canada. This hummingbird is from 7 to 9 cm (2.8 to 3.5 in) long and has an 8 to 11 cm (3.1 to 4.3 in) wingspan. Weight can range from 2 to 6 g (0.071 to 0.212 oz), with males averaging 3.4 g (0.12 oz) against the slightly larger female which averages 3.8 g (0.13 oz). Adults are metallic green above and greyish white below, with near-black wings. Their bill, at up to 2 cm (0.79 in), is long, straight, and very slender. As in all hummingbirds, the toes and feet of this species are quite small, with a middle toe of around 0.6 cm (0.24 in) and a tarsus of approximately 0.4 cm (0.16 in). The ruby-throated hummingbird can only fox-trot if it wants to move along a branch, though it can scratch its head and neck with its feet.
The species is sexually dimorphic. The adult male has a gorget (throat patch) of iridescent ruby red bordered narrowly with velvety black on the upper margin and a forked black tail with a faint violet sheen. The red iridescence is highly directional and appears dull black from many angles. The female has a notched tail with outer feathers banded in green, black, and white and a white throat that may be plain or lightly marked with dusky streaks or stipples. Males are smaller than females and have slightly shorter bills. Juvenile males resemble adult females, though usually with heavier throat markings. The plumage is molted once a year, beginning in late summer.