One of my favorite summer activities is watching hummingbirds. I wait expectantly for their arrival each spring and set out feeders to attract them to my yard and windows. You can make your own hummingbird nectar with this easy recipe that attracts these fascinating, tiny birds who can fly at speeds greater than 33 miles per hour and flap their wings 720 to 5400 times per minute when hovering. A hummingbird flaps its wings up to 70 times per second and its heart rate can reach 1,260 beats per minute.
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Season after season, year after year, I still get a thrill every time I see a hummingbird. Since I keep one of the feeders on the kitchen window over the sink, I see them often. Some zoom in and hoover while grabbing a quick drink. Others perch on the feeder and leisurely sip. It may be a male or a female, adult or young bird. Often the little bird will tilt its head watching closely for other hummers before darting away.
Though there are over 330 species of hummingbirds, the ruby-throated hummingbird is by far the most common hummingbird seen east of the Mississippi River and here in southern New Jersey where I live.
Here are some interesting facts about them:
- Because Ruby-throated hummingbirds have extremely short legs they cannot walk or hop. The best it can do is shuffle along a perch. It can scratch its head and neck by raising its foot up and over its wing. Scientists place hummingbirds in the taxonomic order, the Apodiformes. The name means “without feet.”
- Ruby-throated Hummingbirds prefer to feed on red or orange flowers. Like many birds, hummingbirds have good color vision and can see into the ultraviolet spectrum, which humans can’t see.
- Ruby-throated Hummingbirds normally place their nest on a branch of a deciduous or coniferous tree.
- Male Ruby-throated Hummingbirds don’t stick around long. Pairs are together long enough for courtship and mating – just a matter of days to weeks. Then he’s off on his own, and may begin migration by early August.
- The oldest known Ruby-throated Hummingbird was a female, and at least 9 years, 1 month old when she was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in West Virginia.
- Hummingbirds have 1,000-1,500 feathers, the fewest number of feathers of any bird species in the world.
- The average ruby-throated hummingbird weighs 3 grams. In comparison, a nickel weighs 4.5 grams. It would take more than 150 ruby-throated hummingbirds to weigh one pound.
- Hummingbirds do not suck nectar through their long bills, they lick it with fringed, forked tongues. Capillary action along the fringe of their tongue helps draw nectar up into their throats so they can swallow.
- A hummingbird can lick 10-15 times per second while feeding.
Hummingbirds do not live on sugar water and nectar alone. They eat insects and tiny spiders to supply protein and also feed on tree sap.
Hummingbirds are some of the smallest birds in the world. Flapping those tiny wings can be quite a workout, burning up calories fast. To maintain their energy and momentum, hummingbirds need to eat a lot! To satisfy their speedy metabolisms, these busy birds consume half their body weight in bugs and nectar, feeding every 10-15 minutes and visiting 1,000-2,000 flowers per day.
Cleaning hummingbird feeders
Hummingbird feeders should be cleaned and changed at least once a week and more often on hot days. The nectar will become cloudy and mold will begin to grow making it unsafe for consumption.
- Drain the feeder(s)
- Separate the feeder parts
- With a brush and soapy water, wash the feeder thoroughly.
- Rinse well making sure to remove all soap residue.
- Fill feeder with fresh nectar; reassemble and hang.
Placement of feeders
I usually keep three feeders, one on the front porch, one in a tree in the front yard, and a feeder just outside my kitchen window. This season and last, I have a feeder suctioned to the kitchen window and one just behind it. I thought the hummers would be leery to fly to the window feeder and enticed them with the both feeders. They actually prefer the window feeder.
Here are some tips for choosing a location for your feeders:
- Put your feeders at least four feet above the ground so they are beyond the reach of cats and other predators
- Place feeders in a shady spot, if possible.
- Placing the feeders where you can see them through the window.
Plants to attract hummingbirds
After moving into our home many years ago, I set out to attract hummingbirds to our yard by planting flowers that would entice them. In our 6b zone, I found that Trumpet vine and Buddleia Bush have consistently been favorites for the hummers. In fact, it was the trumpet vine that initially brought our first hummingbirds to our feeders.
Hummingbirds are looking for flowers to use their long, narrow beak, designed to reach deep into the necks of tubular flowers. Hummingbird favorites usually are red, orange, yellow or blue, especially blue Salvia species. Hummers like blossoms with lots of concentrated nectar.
Top 10 hummingbird flowers
- Trumpet Vine
- Buddliea Bush commonly known as butterfly bush
- Bee balm
- Cardinal flower
Hummingbirds spend the winter in Central America or Mexico, and migrate north to their breeding grounds in the southern U.S. as early as February, and to areas further north later in the spring. The first arrivals in spring are usually males.
Here in zone 6b, I have had a hummer arrive as early are April 8th. I like to set my feeders out by April 1st each year. The northward migration is complete by late May. Banding studies show that each bird tends to return every year to the same place it hatched, even visiting the same feeders!
The peak of southward migration is late August and early September. The number of birds migrating south may be twice that of the northward trip, since it includes all immature birds that hatched during the summer, as well as surviving adults.
For a hummer that just hatched, there’s no memory of past migrations, only an urge to put on a lot of weight and fly in a particular direction for a certain amount of time, then look for a good place to spend the winter. Once it learns such a route, a bird may retrace it every year as long as it lives.
The initial urge is triggered by the shortening length of sunlight as autumn approaches, and has nothing to do with temperature or the availability of food; in fact, hummingbirds migrate south at the time of greatest food abundance. When the bird is fat enough, it migrates.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds are solitary. Adults of this species are not social, other than during courtship (which lasts a few minutes); the female also cares for her offspring. Both males and females of any age are aggressive toward other hummingbirds. They may defend territories, such as a feeding territory, attacking and chasing other hummingbirds that enter.
I have seen photos that have many hummingbirds at feeders but in my experience, it is rare that there is more than one bird on a feeder at a time. The top photo in the collage above seems to sum up how pleased they are to share a feeder.
How to Make Hummingbird Nectar
- 4 cups water
- 1 cup sugar
- Combine ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
- Allow sugar to dissolve and remove from heat.
- Let the nectar cool and then pour into your feeder.
- Store remaining nectar in the refrigerator.
Don’t put hot nectar in the feeder. Hot nectar could do damage to the inside of the feeder as the high temperatures might melt the interior of the feeder.
If you make extra nectar, store it in a covered container in the refrigerator and use within a week.
Do not use any artificial sweetener or honey. Using sweetener other than sugar can be dangerous to the hummingbirds.
Clean your hummingbird feeder often to make sure there’s no mold or harmful bacteria for the birds.
Hummingbird watcher and enthusiast
Check out these suggestions if you are looking to draw hummingbirds to your yard or if you need a great gift idea for a friend that loves hummingbirds.
Hummingbirds by Ronald Orenstein
Matthew 19:26 Hummingbird Inspirational Wall Plaque
Suction Cup Windows Hummingbird Feeder, 8-Ounce
Handheld Hummingbird Feeders with Perch—Pack of 2
Bottle Brush Set Cleaning Brushes
Audubon: Ruby-throated Hummingbird Puzzle
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