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Wildlife Wonders

Today is Ruby-throated Hummingbird Day!

“We’re constantly being bombarded by problems that we face and sometimes we can get overwhelmed. (But) we should always feel like a hummingbird.  I may feel insignificant, but I don’t want to be like the other animals watching the planet go down the drain.  I’ll be a hummingbird, I’ll do the best I can.”  Wangari Maathai

Although there are over 300 species of hummingbirds worldwide, the ruby-throated hummingbird is the only hummingbird found in the eastern United States. Bee hummingbirds are the world’s smallest bird, found in Cuba, they are about 2.25 inches and weighs less than a dime…half the weight of a ruby-throated hummingbird.  Their eggs are about the size of a coffee bean. 

Our backyard hummingbird, the ruby-throated, weight .1 – .2 oz., length 2.8-3.5″ and wingspan 3.1-4.3 inches. They are metallic green above.  Adult males have a brilliant ruby red throat, black chin and deeply forked tail.  The female throat is white, they have a blunt, rounded tail with white on the tips. 

Their nests are very small about 1.5 inches and they lay two eggs that are about the size of a jellybean.  The nest, a walnut shell sized cup, is built in the branches of trees and shrubs, made of spider webs and plant materials and camouflaged with moss and lichen.  The spider webs of nest stretch as the birds grow.   Male and females don’t stay together after mating.  The female cares for the eggs and chicks alone. 

Unsociable and territorial you will often see them chasing away competitors from their favorite flowers or feeders.  They have good color vision and a preference for red or orange tubular flowers. Using their long beak to probe into the flowers and their tongue acts like a squeezy pipette to take up nectar. It will go in and out of a flower about 20x/second.  As they move about the flowers, pollen attaches to the feathers on their heads and they pollinate flowers as they go. Hummingbirds feed during the day on nectar from flowers, sap from trees, small insects and spiders.  Many plant species depend on hummingbirds for pollination. 

Hummingbirds are the only bird species that can fly backwards and upside down.  And although the kestrel can “windhover”, the hummingbird is the only bird that can hover without the assistance of wind.  They beat their wings, on average, about 53 times/second!  Their extremely short legs prevent them from walking or hopping. They will “shuffle” along a perch. 

Ruby-throated hummingbirds arrive in CT in late April.  You can follow their migration route and time their arrival on JourneyNorth.org. They will head back to Central America in early fall.  The males will leave first.  Migrating along the Atlantic coast some will fly down to Florida and then travel 18-20 hours non-stop to fly 500 miles across the Gulf of Mexico.  They will gain 25 – 40% of their body weight before they start.  During migration a hummingbird’s heartbeat goes up to 1,260 beats/minute…that is about 20 beats/second, at rest it is 225 beats/minute.  A human’s heart beats 60-90 beats/minute.

If they can survive their first year and don’t become prey of blue jays, squirrels, crows, raccoons and snakes or as adults if their predators – cats and birds of prey such as hawks and kestrels don’t get them they live 3-5 years.  One banded hummingbird was captured and re-released in West Virginia.  It was 9 years, 1 month. 

When the temperature goes down and their isn’t much food available, in order to survive, a hummingbird can go into a “torpor” state.   A torpor state is similar to a very deep sleep, when the metabolic functions, e.g. the breakdown of food to energy, are slowed to a minimum and a very low body temperature is maintained.  One more amazing adaptation of these “flying jewels”.

How can you help?  First, if you have a cat, keep it indoors. Plant your garden with flowers to attract hummingbirds – bee balm, cardinal flower, salvia, bleeding heart, butterfly bush, trumpet vine, lupines. Or put up a hummingbird feeder! Use 1/4 cup regular table sugar to 1 cup of water (warm water helps to dissolve the sugar better). Don’t add red food coloring.  If you mix it every day or two there is no need to boil the water, but if you want to make a larger quantity and store it in the refrigerator.  Just boil the water for 2-3 minutes and carefully pour it over the sugar in a Pyrex measuring cup so you can readily pour it into a container (we use a clean gallon water jug for storing it in the fridge). Remember to change the sugar solution if it gets cloudy in the feeder and clean your feeder regularly so you don’t get any mold.  You can just scrub with a brush and clean water or if necessary use a vinegar solution to clean the feeder, but rinse it out a couple of times.  

I hope you get to see and appreciate these amazing, beautiful bundles of energy!

https://portal.ct.gov/-/media/DEEP/wildlife/pdf_files/outreach/Kids-Pages/HummingbirdWarblerColoringPage.pdf?la=en

https://journeynorth.org/hummingbirds

https://www.hummingbirdcentral.com/

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Ruby-throated_Hummingbird

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