Hummingbirds - The Jewels in Our Gardens

Friday, June 6, 2014
I thought it was time to change it up a little in case you're weary from all your traveling as you've explored Sharon Springs with me.  What a better way to refuel but to sit back and soak up the nice weather we've been enjoying, and savor one of the finest treasures summer has to offer......the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird.

Unlike some of it's fellow bird species (like the sometimes bullying Blue Jays), everyone seems to have a love affair with hummers.  And why wouldn't they?  Hummers are elusive little jewels that disappear as quickly as they land.  If you are lucky enough to observe them interact with other hummers who try to share "their territory", you will see they can be comical and quite sassy.  I always marvel at photos in magazines of feeders covered in a mass of hummers.  I've only once seen even two at a time at mine.   And that event was not all that peaceful!

Aside from the joy they bring, hummers are some of the most fascinating of God's creatures.  Just a few little facts you may not be familiar with.......Hummers weigh an average of 0.1-0.2 oz and measure 2.8-3.5".   Rubies beat their wings around 53 times per SECOND and can hover by flapping their wings in a Figure 8 pattern.   Because hummers have such rapid breathing, heart rates and high body temperature, they need to eat several times a day.  Ruby-throated hummingbirds prefer to feed on red or orange flowers (but make exceptions).  Like many birds, hummingbirds have good color vision and can see into the ultraviolet spectrum, which humans can’t see.  Experts say it is not necessary to color their syrup, and fact it is better for the hummers if sugar water is not colored.  I've found that my hummers eat just as frequently when I served clear syrup.  Hummers also eat insects like gnats, mosquitoes,  fruit flies, and small bees and spiders. Hummingbirds have a long tongue and lick their food at a rate of up to 13 licks per second.

The courtship of hummingbirds is short, lasting only a few weeks before Dad departs for life on his own.  Hummers build their nest - which is about the size of a thimble on a branch of a deciduous or coniferous tree. Nests are usually 10-40 feet above the ground. Nests have also been found on loops of chain, wire, and extension cords. Hummers produce a clutch of 1-3 eggs (each weighting 1/50th of an oz).  Incubation lasts 12-14 days and young hummers leave the nest in about 21 days.

Ruby-throats are precision flyers with the ability to fly full out and stop in an instant, hang motionless in midair, and adjust their position up, down, sideways, and backwards with minute control.  Once they are comfortable with their surroundings and usually after they've "staked their territory" hummers are happy to perch a while and catch their breath.  My hummers enjoy perching on skinny branches and metal trellises for a spell while they protect their territory from any hummers who might think the coast is clear.  I've also observed that hummers love water.   They seem to really enjoy a light rain and will dart in and out of the spray of the sprinkler, like toddlers at play. 

Once the days become shorter, hummers instinctively know it's time to think about migrating to a warmer climate where food supplies are more abundant.  Most of them must retreat back "home" to Central America but a few Ruby-throats remain along the Gulf coast each winter instead of continuing to Central America.  Before departing, each bird will have nearly doubled its weight, from about 3.25 grams to over 6 grams.  When a bird senses it's "fat enough", it migrates.    It's thought that the males leave first,  the females and young later.  There is evidence that fewer Ruby-throats cross the Gulf in fall than in spring, most instead following the Texas coast back into Mexico.  Perhaps the hurricane season is a factor.  Before departing, each bird will have nearly doubled its weight, from about 3.25 grams to over 6 grams; when it reaches the U.S. Gulf coast, it may weigh only 2.5 grams.  Most hummers cross the Gulf, typically leaving at dusk for a nonstop flight of up to 500 miles, which takes 18-22 hours depending on the weather.  That's a lot of flying for these tiny travelers!

If you want to attract hummers to your yard, it is recommended you plant flowers that will naturally attract them.  These include trumpet creeper, cardinal flower, honeysuckle, jewelweed, bee-balm, red buckeye and red morning glory, fuscia, hosta, bee balm, coral bells, petunias and many others.  I find that it's a good idea to put your feeders out early so that the first hummers to migrate through the area might be tempted to visit. I usually put mine out mid April even though I don't often see visitors until a bit later.  Personally I have found that hummers prefer home-made syrup over the store-bought varieties.  I use a 1-4 ratio, once cup of sugar to 4 cups of water.  I bring my water to a boil and add the sugar, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.  I store any left-over mixture in the fridge.  It's very important to change the syrup often - and always before it turns cloudy.  The hotter the weather, the more often you need to clean your feeders and restock with fresh.   I use a little bleach when cleaning my feeders to get rid of any mold or bacteria, rinsing well afterwards.   
 One piece of information you may not be aware of.......hummers aren't the only ones who crave syrup.  You might notice your feeders emptying faster than normal and assume your hummer friends must be especially thirsty, but if you keep an eye out you might catch the real culprits........

One way to deal with this intruder is to hang your feeders on poles with squirrel guards!  That seems to be the only thing that keeps my feeders full for the hummers to enjoy!
If you are lucky enough to have these precious gems in your yard, you know what joy they bring.  If you don't, I hope this blog encourages you to "welcome" them soon.    

1 comment

  1. Hi Gail - what a great blog and post! I cannot believe the photos you get. It's almost as good as seeing the actual birds in the yard.


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