Live Backyard Entertainment in Summer By The Hummingbird
Falling in Love
From a poem by B.J. Ayers ............
"Wings fluttering quicker than the eye can see,
The little Hummingbird searching for sweet nectar"
I believe anybody who has seen a hummingbird would instantly fall in love with this miniature bird. At least that is what happened to me when I saw this bird humming away, while drawing nectar from a pomegranate flower. It was love at first sight, and then I forgot about it, until I saw a photograph of a hovering hummingbird, followed by a video made at the Saltery lodge in Alaska; attached here for your viewing pleasure.
Hand feeding the Hummingbirds
Some Basic Facts about Hummingbirds.
These miniature birds belong to the family ‘Trochilidae’ and have been named after the humming sound produced by the fast flapping wings. These birds have the ability to fly forwards, backwards, up, down, sideways or can just stay at the same spot while hovering. They weigh anywhere between 2 and 20 grams, depending on specie. Compare this with a penny that weighs 2.5 grams. The ruby throated hummingbird, that is most common in Canada, weighs about 3 grams and is about 3.5 inches long from the tip of the beak to the end of the tail. This species female is 15 to 20 % larger than the male.
Some of the hummingbirds migrate over 2000 miles twice a year – once during the approach to spring, when they travel northwards to nest and second time during the fall, travelling towards the South to the Southern USA/ Mexico/ Central America to spend the winter months. This migration is timed with the blossoming of the flowers in North America, and the birds travel about 20 miles a day, depending on the flowers.
The Hummingbird Flight Spectacle
The greatest attraction of these birds is their flight, which is full of energy and power that makes these birds in to an amazing spectacle to watch, while in flight. You don’t see them approaching at all and then you see them hovering close to your feeder, and then they are gone, without a trace. It is documented that a hummingbird can clock a dive speed of 60 mph or close to 100 kmph or average about 30 mph or about 50 kmph flight speed in a very short distance, starting from a position of rest or hover. To facilitate this feat, the wings flap at 12 to 80 times per second, depending on the size/ species and the hummingbird’s heart beats up to 1260 beats per minute. This is nearly 17 times faster than a human’s heart beat.
Iridescence and Colour
The other attraction is the iridescence of the feathers of this bird species. Many birds have beautiful colour schemes, but beautiful iridescent colours are one of the trademarks of the hummingbird. The male’s gorget, or throat patch, is particularly noticeable and flashy. The hummingbirds colours are mostly used to name the species too, like the ruby throated, the blue throated, the black chinned, the violet crowned, and so on. There are over 300 species of these hummingbirds. It is said that the hummingbird’s colour comes from iridescence, and not pigmentation. Just like soap bubbles, the colours are dependent on the light source and the position of the viewer or in other words, the hummingbird colours are structurally produced through reflection and refraction of the available light. This is used by the male hummingbirds to flash colours to impress the females or to threaten other males in their territory.
Watching them Live in your Backyard
These birds are a delight to watch and attracting them in to your own back yard can provide hours of entertainment. I can vouch for this fact, as I have attracted these birds to my backyard with feeders bought at the dollar store. These feeders have red colour in them as it is believed that the hummingbirds are attracted to this colour, as the hummingbirds have no sense of smell. The feeders that I have are very basic but better quality feeders are also available at the pet stores; some that even have a perch position for the bird. I prefer the dollar store variety because it serves the purpose equally well, is cheaper and permits me to watch the hummingbird hover, which would not be possible on feeders with perch facility.
The Hummingbird Book
The Hummingbird's Hover flight
The hummingbird can be instantly recognised by its characteristic ‘hover’, its small size and very fast acceleration. Some of the hummingbird species are the smallest birds in the world that have a stubby body and relatively large wings, as compared to the body. Since its wings must be used for long periods of time without rest, and since these wings move extremely fast, the hummingbird's breast muscles are huge in proportion to its size. They weigh about a third of its total weight, and the muscles used to draw the wings upward are almost as powerful as those that drive the wings down. This is so because the hummingbird wings produce lift during both phases of its wing movement, upwards to downwards and vice versa. Biomechanist Douglas Warrick’s research has documented that 75 % of the lift to support the Rufous hummingbirds weight is produced while the wing is traversing down and the balance 25 % during the upward movement.
Hummingbird's unique Bill and Tongue
The other noticeable characteristic of the hummingbird is the bill, which is long and sharp and is used to push deep in to the flowers to get at the nectar. The hummingbird’s tongue and bill are both perfectly adapted to efficiently obtain its food. The tongue, which is extremely long, can be extended well beyond the bill. The front part of the tongue is split. Since 1833, scientists have believed that hummingbirds drink nectar hidden in the flowers through capillary action, by curling their forked tongues in to a straw shape. However, research conducted at the University of Connecticut, with a high-speed camera photographing 30 hummingbirds feeding at the feeder, and with post mortem microscopic examination of the tongues of 20 hummingbirds it has come to light that this is not true. This study that has been published in 2011 has concluded that hummingbirds trap the nectar between the split tongue, rather than sip it through capillary action.
Their Legs and Feet
As you can see in the photograph, hummingbirds have small legs and feet. The feet are so small that hummingbirds have difficulty walking. I have always seen a hummingbird take straight to flight from where ever it is perched or sitting. These birds prefer flight because of their powerful wings and weak legs.
Attracting them to your Backyard
The easiest way to attract these tiny birds is to create the habitat for them in terms of food, water, and nesting. These birds drink nectar from flowers which have a sugar content of 10 % or above, the higher the better. So, this is the minimum sugar content that should be prepared if you are installing a feeder in your backyard, although it is recommended to prepare a sugary syrup comprising of 1 part of sugar and 4 parts of water. Initially prepare stronger syrup so that the birds are attracted to the feeder. Once they are accustomed to the feeder, then the recommended quantities should be used. These birds drink the nectar several times in a day to replenish the fast depleting resources in the body due to higher metabolism rate to keep up with their fast lifestyle. In addition to nectar, the hummingbirds also need protein and other nutrients, which they get by feeding on bugs, like spiders and gnats. These birds consume more than their own weight in nectar each day, and to achieve this they must visit hundreds of flower/ feeder sources every day. This is a plus for birders like me; as it helps get them to my feeder for my viewing pleasure more often.
These birds drink water and love bathing, possibly due to their food; sticky syrupy nectar that can foul up feathers. A bird shower or a bird bath with a fountain is a definite plus to attract them to your backyard.
Hummingbirds need to Conserve Energy!
Their lifestyle demands that these birds need to seriously consider conserving energy by slowing down their metabolism at night, or at any other time when food is not readily available. They do this by entering ‘torpor’, or hibernation-like state. During torpor, the heart rate and rate of breathing are both slowed down dramatically to about 1/15th the normal rate(the heart rate to roughly 50 to 180 beats per minute), so that they are burning much less energy than normal and thus reducing the need for food.
An Amazing Fact.
Some species of these birds are known to cross the Gulf of Mexico in one straight flight, a distance of about 500 miles (800 Kms) in about 20 hours of nonstop flight. They do this by consuming the energy that is stored as fat before the commencement of this migration journey. Birds are known to increase their body weight to double by storing food as fat for the journey. They store up to 5 times the normal fat, all over the body.
When are you hosting them in your backyard?
I am certain that any bird lover or student of flight would love to have these miniature, amazing birds in their own backyard to enjoy hours of free entertainment. They don't ask for much - just a little sugary syrup everyday, exclusively for them. I have found that wasps also love the syrup and crowd around the feeder and scare the birds away. The way to prevent the wasps from monopolising the feeders is to apply some cooking oil (preferably Canola) near the feeding ports on the outside, such that it does not mix with the syrup inside the feeder. This has prevented the wasps from sitting on the feeders in my backyard. Good advice got from the internet.
Enjoy live performances with your dear ones, every 15 to 20 minutes, through the summer. Are you ready?
I last saw the hummingbird on 02 September evening. I did not see them on 03 September onwards and have concluded that they are heading South from Whitby, Ontario on or around the 03 September this year. It had gotten chilly around that time. These birds know exactly when it is time to come and when to leave Ontario.
My feeders are still up, in case they are still around. The feeders are now being monopolised by the wasps completely. Miss you and your live entertainment in our backyard, hummingbirds. See you soon, next year.
Saw the hummingbird again on 15 September. I saw the hummingbird close to one of the now empty feeders, when I woke up this morning. I quickly refilled the feeders and put them back up. It's come back thrice until 12 noon today and has spent inordinately long time on the feeder, than it would normally do before 03 September.
However, I was a little surprised since the bird had gone away on 03 September, to the South I had presumed, and resurfaced again on 15 September, looking much thinner than I remember.
I do not see any information of this behaviour. Does any one have any answers?