Hummingbirds never cease to thrill me. I photo them whenever possible and have recently written a children’s gardening book about them (Howie’s Hungabird Dilemma, illustrated by Casie Pace). With their iridescent feathers, they resemble flying jewels. Close up, you can hear the hum of their wings and feel a gentle breeze from the stroke of their wings (80-200 per second). The smallest weigh only as much as a penny. Hummers typically fly 25-30 miles per hour, but in a display dive, they can hit 65 miles an hour (showing off for the girls or another dreaded male).
Just think of the energy hummers expend! That’s why they are on a nearly continual search for nectar and tiny insects–to maintain their sugar and protein level. They have no sense of smell and must rely on visual cues to lead them to nectar; hence, red is their favorite flower color. By planting many red and purple tubular and bell-shaped flowers, you are very likely to attract hummingbirds. The little birds are pollinators, carrying pollen on their head and wings from flower to flower.
I didn’t realize until recent research I did that hummingbirds actually sing. But keeping in character with their rapid flight and wing strokes, their song is so fast that our ears hear only chirps and twits. Who knew? To me, that’s actually a very sweet sound.
While hummingbird do have some predators, such as hawks, crows, and other larger birds, they have a worse hazard: clear plate glass windows. They are attracted to the reflections of trees, shrubs, flowers or the feeder, and fly into windows at full speed, often fatal. Once when seeing it happen and hearing the heartbreaking thump, I ran outside, picked up the poor little hummer, and stuck its bill into the feeder hanging above. I could see the gulping of its throat as it took in nectar. About 10 seconds later, it took to flight from my hand. Such friendly eyes, and I swear it smiled!
Have you ever seen a hummingbird nest? It’s only about 1 1/2 inches in diameter, shaped like a demitasse cup. The pure white hummer eggs are about 1/2 inch long, as big as your pinky fingernail. I usually hang out a small metal mesh basket filled with dog hair and clothes dryer fluff for hummers to line their nests. They camouflage the outside with lichen and moss and often hold it together with spider webs.
Hummer courting and mating is an airborne ballet, face to face, rising and falling, twitting and tweeting, with fancy aerobatics in between. It can begin as early as December in warmer regions. Then the female builds her tiny nest and lays two or three eggs. Most have only one brood per year. Allen’s and Roufous have two, and the Anna’s and Black-chinned may have up to three broods.
Knowing how hyperactive hummers are, we often wonder if they ever sleep. They do, by roosting overnight in dense foliage. It’s an interesting phenomenon: they go into a torpor with decreased heart rate and body temperature and can appear dead. But come morning with light and increased temperature, they rouse and begin their daily search for nourishment.
Hummingbirds are native to only the Americas. There are about 340 species with just 17 that breed regularly in the United States. We do have four or five other species that are considered “visitors.” Before the winter cold arrives, most hummingbirds will fly thousands of miles to warmer climes and then return again with rising temperatures. Some species, like the Anna’s, will overwinter in warmer climates. But, if they do and none of their favorite flowers are in bloom, we need to maintain a feeder for them. Watch for the publication of date of Howie’s Hummingbird Dilemma, probably by end of March. In the meantime, please visit: www.sandybakerwriter.com and www.facebook.com/sandybakerauthor.