Interesting Facts About Hummingbirds

Rufous Hummingbird
Rufous Hummingbird | Source
Allen's hummingbird courtship display
Allen's hummingbird courtship display

The one bird that holds the greatest fascination among backyard bird- watchers is the hummingbird. There are sixteen species in the U.S and about 340 known in the world. Going back to early civilizations, the hummingbird was held in high regard. In Native American folklore, the hummer was thought to bring light. In other tribes, it was the bringer of rain.

In Southern California we commonly see Anna's Hummingbird with a grayish-white body and iridescent green accents. The male has an iridescent ruby face and throat. He is unmistakable when spotted at feeders. The Rufous Hummingbird, a shorter, more aggressive species with a rusty brown head and coppery-orange throat is a frequent visitor, but it is the green-backed Allen's hummingbird who high-dives from above in a dramatic buzzing pass- much to our entertainment. It is really something to witness his courtship flight! The black-chinned Costa's hummingbird, the smallest of our visitors, comes more frequently once winter has passed now that favorite desert plants are part of our urban xeriscape gardens. The male Costa has a stunning purple throat and chest which radiates like an amethyst when the light is just right! Jewels of the garden, indeed!


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Common hummingbirds in So. California :

Allen's Hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin) has a green back and rusty flanks.
Allen's Hummingbird (Selasphorus sasin) has a green back and rusty flanks. | Source
Anna's Hummingbird ( Calypte anna) is gray, white, and green. Females have black or dark green heads. The males have a ruby head and gorget.
Anna's Hummingbird ( Calypte anna) is gray, white, and green. Females have black or dark green heads. The males have a ruby head and gorget.
Costa's Hummingbird ( Calypte costae) has a green back w/ grey flanks. Females have black chins and heads. The male has an amethyst head and throat.
Costa's Hummingbird ( Calypte costae) has a green back w/ grey flanks. Females have black chins and heads. The male has an amethyst head and throat.
The Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) has a green and rusty-red body; hence, the name rufous which means red. The male has a brilliant copper-orange throat.
The Rufous Hummingbird (Selasphorus rufus) has a green and rusty-red body; hence, the name rufous which means red. The male has a brilliant copper-orange throat.

Hummingbirds fall into the bird category of gnat catchers. In addition to insects and spiders, their natural diet is made up of sap, pollen, and nectar. They benefit us in the garden by helping with pollination. Hummers have bills that are long, curved, and tapered at the tip.This makes it easy for them to get nectar and pollen from tubular flowers and sap from holes made by other sapsuckers. They are primarly attracted to red which is the reason many of us often artificially color the sugar solutions for the bird feeders. Since this isn't necessary and red dyes could possibly harm the birds, it's best to keep it clear. Hummers choose red flowers because bees are busy pollinating the yellow and orange blooms. The lack of bees means a sweeter, better quality nectar. The Rufous hummer is strongly attracted to red.

The hummingbird has a very fast metabolism and needs to feed every 10 min. or so. It consumes about 2/3 its body weight every day. It has a translucent tongue that can lick at the rate of 13 times per second! It can fly at 40mph and can dive-bomb in attack mode at a speed of 60mph. Its wings beat about 50 times per second as it hovers upright at flowers and feeders. It is capable of flying in all directions including upside down. Unlike other birds that have wings which can bend in 2 places: the shoulder and the"elbow" and get power from the downstroke, hummers beat from the shoulder only and achieve greater maneuverability.

Hummingbirds will stop and perch on branches of trees and shrubs, fences, and utlity lines where they often let out a high-pitched squeaky chirp . They like to observe the safety of surroundings before feeding, so it's best to consider its preferences when hanging a feeder. A hummer can live for up to 8 years and can remember the location of food sources for most of its life. This is a good thing for enthusiasts with backyard feeders! We all enjoy watching these delightful birds fom our windows as they loudly buzz down to drink the nectar. My favorte feeder is the Perky Pet. It is easy to dismantle and clean regularly- a must for the good welfare of these tiny, energetic birds. The moldy soot that quickly grows on sugary feeder ports can be toxic to them.

This easy-to-clean feeder has a built-in ant moat and is a hummingbird favorite!

Downy nest with 2 jelly-bean eggs:

Hummingbird nest- a downy little cup with its two jelly bean sized eggs.
Hummingbird nest- a downy little cup with its two jelly bean sized eggs.

The nest will be made on a small branch or twig in a shrub. The nest has a cavity of 1 1/2 in. and is held together with spider webs. The nest is lined with soft downy plant material, and will hold one or two jelly-bean sized eggs laid on separate days. Once the eggs are laid, the mother will sit on them and begin gestation. This takes 2-3 weeks. A female will have 2 or 3 broods a year.

Feeding frenzy at dusk

hummingbirds at my patio feeder at dusk.
hummingbirds at my patio feeder at dusk. | Source

The manzanita flower offers a significant food source for young birds.

hummingbird feeding from  Arctostaphylos (Manazanita)- this is one of the more important plants for both nesting and feeding.
hummingbird feeding from Arctostaphylos (Manazanita)- this is one of the more important plants for both nesting and feeding. | Source

Create a natural habitat.

Hummingbirds are most likely to frequent those gardens which most resemble wild habitats and offer native plants and flowers for feeding and nesting. Hummers mate and nest during the first 6 mo. of the year.They should not exclusively live off the sugar nectar we provide. It is important that they get protein from insects and pollen from plants which is thought to be an immunity booster. In So. California, hummers like to nest in native plants like Ceanothus, Manzanita, and elderberry (Sambucus)

Galvezia Speciosa

Galvezia speciosa "boca rosa" - Channel Island Snapdragon
Galvezia speciosa "boca rosa" - Channel Island Snapdragon

The following is a partial list of favorite food sources for this Western region that add carefree beauty to the garden. For other areas, check with the Audubon Society or your local native plant nursery. It is important that we sustain our native wildlife by providing the correct host plants. As an example, young hummers feed from the small white bell flowers of manzanita. If it were to become unavailable, our hummingbirds would migrate to Mexico, and we would feel their absence. Make your backyard a welcoming place for our native flora and fauna. You will marvel at the adaptabilty of your plants and the rich diversity of life they attract. You'll want to grab that camera or your favorite sketchbook when those lovely hummers buzz by for a visit!

Calliandra Califoricum

Calliandra californicum
Calliandra californicum

Salvia clevlandii

Salvia clevlandii- a fragrant and beautiful drought tolerant shrub
Salvia clevlandii- a fragrant and beautiful drought tolerant shrub | Source
Hummingbird  feeding from a variety of  the long tubular flowers it favors.
Hummingbird feeding from a variety of the long tubular flowers it favors. | Source

Antirrhinum- snapdragon

Aquilegia- California Columbine

Arctostaphylos- Manzanita

Calliandra californicum- Fairyduster

Cirsium occidentale- Red Thistle

Erysimum- Wallflower

Galvezia speciosa "boca rosa"- Channel Is. Snapdragon

Lilium- orange lilies

Lobelia cardinalis

Lonicera- Honeysuckle

Mimulus cardinalis- Monkey Flower

Salvia apiana- White Sage

Salvia clevlandii- Cleveland Sage

Salvia leucantha- Mexican Sage

Zauschneria- California Fuchsia

 

© 2011 Catherine Tally

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Comments 19 comments

Genna East profile image

Genna East 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

How beautiful they are; I have been thinking about purchasing a feeder, but am not sure of how safe it would be given the squirrels (the neighborhood bullies) we have in abundance in the spring and summer months. These guys eat just about anything. Wonderful hub!


cat on a soapbox profile image

cat on a soapbox 5 years ago from Los Angeles Author

Thanks, Genna. I always value your comments. I've never known a squirrel to pester a hummingbird feeder since they have no use for the nectar. Ants can be a problem; however, there are products like the Ant Guard, which acts like a moat which ants avoid crossing to get to the sugar. I hope you do get a feeder so you can enjoy watching these winged jewels!


crystolite profile image

crystolite 5 years ago from Houston TX

Nice poem with colorful pics of the birds.


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 5 years ago from United States

My family gets excited when we spot a hummingbird in the yard, too. Thanks in particular for the list. We're only growing three on it and will have to add more!


cat on a soapbox profile image

cat on a soapbox 5 years ago from Los Angeles Author

Crystolite: I'm so glad you enjoyed my hub. Thanks for reading.

Dirt Farmer: Isn't it great that hummers remember the location of food sources year after year? You should always have these energetic friends buzzing about your yard especially if you add more native host plants.


epigramman profile image

epigramman 5 years ago

....well this is perhaps the most definitive hub on hummingbirds - and it's by far the most beautiful!!!!


cat on a soapbox profile image

cat on a soapbox 5 years ago from Los Angeles Author

Wow, thanks! I just love these beautiful winged gems so

much- they inspire me to write about them. I'm so glad you enjoyed my hub!


Fossillady profile image

Fossillady 5 years ago from Saugatuck Michigan

We have the Ruby Throated hummer here in Michigan. He goes after my Hosta blooms the most. Fun, fun, fun to watch!


logic,commonsense 5 years ago

I get one to stop by every once in awhile, but they never seem to stick around, even with some of their favorite plants around the house.


Miss Lil' Atlanta profile image

Miss Lil' Atlanta 5 years ago from Atlanta, GA

Hummingbirds really are some of the most interesting animals. I've always been fascinated by them. Where I live there really aren't many hummingbirds, but I've had the pleasure of seeing about 3 or 4 of them in my life time.

Really great hub again, cat on a soapbox. I'm so going to start following your hubs. :)


cat on a soapbox profile image

cat on a soapbox 5 years ago from Los Angeles Author

Miss Lil' Atlanta, I am really glad that you enjoyed my hub. Hummers are truly remarkable in both beauty and habit- no wonder so many people love them! I hope you can attract more to your area. Thank you for your nice comments :>)


Barbara 5 years ago

Hi everyone,

I live in southeastern Massachusetts. This year I put out my hummingbird feeder and two pesky squirrels jump on it and tip it and lick up the nectar. I tried switching to a feeder with high plastic flowers (the other plastic flowers lay flat against the bottom piece). They ate through the feeder in less than a week and all the nectar has leaked out which they were hungryly licking it off the deck. I can't believe they are doing this. My feeder gets empty in one day. I guess I won't be able to feed the hummingbirds anymore as they very seldom get to eatanyway. What a bummer. I just love to watch them too!


cstally@ca.rr.com 5 years ago

Wow! Those are hungry squirrels. I'd suggest putting a pile of fruit&nut bird food out in a small pile nearby, so they fill up and leave your feeder alone. Good luck!

Cat on a soapbox :>)


Mr. Happy profile image

Mr. Happy 4 years ago from Toronto, Canada

Your hummingbird feeder looks like one a good friend of mine has at his cottage, here in Northern Ontario. The birds which come to it are for sure some specie of hummingbirds because they have the same helicopter flying patterns and make that loud buzzing sound when they fly, like giant insects. I have yet to catch one in a photo. For some reason I kept thinking that huminbirds only live in hot climates ...

Very intersting piece of writing. I appreciate You sharing all this information. Thank You for putting this hub together.

All the best!


cat on a soapbox profile image

cat on a soapbox 4 years ago from Los Angeles Author

Hi Mr. Happy. I'm so glad that you enjoyed learning about hummingbirds. There are many varieties all over the world. Try a feeder in your yard and be patient. They should eventually show up just like they have at your friend's cottage. Thanks for dropping by and commenting! :)


Express10 profile image

Express10 3 years ago from East Coast

Hummingbirds are fascinating and beautiful creatures. I didn't know they could live up to 8 years. Thanks for sharing this information and the beautiful pictures.


cat on a soapbox profile image

cat on a soapbox 3 years ago from Los Angeles Author

Hi Express10,

Hummingbirds are such a treat to have in our garden! The Anna's hummingbird that visits us is one of the longer-lived No. American varieties. I think most other hummers average 3-5 years if they learn survival skills when young. - Amazing!, considering their metabolic rate.

Thank you! It's a pleasure to see your thoughtful comments on 2 of my hubs today.

My best,

Cat:)


D.A.L. profile image

D.A.L. 2 years ago from Lancashire north west England

Beautifully written, informative article, enhanced by great images. It is one of my sad regrets that humming birds do not occur here in the UK. Thanks to you I have been blessed with their company for a while.


cat on a soapbox profile image

cat on a soapbox 2 years ago from Los Angeles Author

Good morning, Dave. I'm so glad you enjoyed my hub and the images. One of the great joys of travel is experiencing the diversity of our natural world. It is a concern to me that bird/insect host plants/trees are being replaced by non-native species which have become more readily available around the globe. Thank you for stopping by and leaving the thoughtful comments. :)

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    cat on a soapbox profile image

    Catherine Tally (cat on a soapbox)291 Followers
    55 Articles

    Catherine is a California Certified Nursery Professional. Her interests are birds,insects, integrated pest management, & organic gardening.



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