Interesting Facts About Hummingbirds
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!
Common hummingbirds in So. California :
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:
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
The manzanita flower offers a significant food source for young birds.
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)
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!
Aquilegia- California Columbine
Calliandra californicum- Fairyduster
Cirsium occidentale- Red Thistle
Galvezia speciosa "boca rosa"- Channel Is. Snapdragon
Lilium- orange lilies
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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