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I love Humming Birds

These fascinating birds only live in the Western Hemisphere.  There are 338 known species. Only 16 species reside in the United States.  Most humming birds live in the humid tropics of Central and South America where their varieties include bright colors, long tantalizing tails, and flashy head crests.  North American humming birds are compact in body shape and less flamboyant as their relatives in the south.   Their species have adapted to the colder high altitudes in the Andes and Rocky Mountain ranges in North America.  And some like it dry in canyons and deserts of Mexico, Arizona, Utah, California, and Colorado. 

Attracting a mate.  It is the male hummer who attracts the most attention.  His special plumage will identify species while most North American females look very similar.  As with most bird species, it is the colorful male plumage that attracts a female. She is also attracted to her mate by the amount of food he has to offer in his territory.   This is a good reason to have multiple feeders in your yard.  

Courtship often involves fancy flight displays by the male of climbing to great heights and nose bombing at top speed to the near ground.  Loop de loops and directional changes are included in these acrobatics.  Sometimes a male hummer will hover near a female doing a sort of back and forth dance in mid-air.  This is also a territorial display you might notice when an intruder comes to your feeder.

Feathers.  Humming birds are known for their sparkly feather colors.  An interesting twist to their actual plumage color is the other colors caused by the tiny facets in the feathers that are reflective.  These reflective colors are only visible when looking at the bird straight on.  It is the iridescent that color the Ruby-Throated Hummer red.  The actual humming bird plumage does not carry the pigment of red or yellow.  Humming birds have more feathers for their surface area than larger birds.  However, they have no down feathers to help keep them warm.

Amazing wings.  The wing and leg bones are hollow like most birds making them lighter in weight.  The humming bird has a larger sternum for its size allowing for more flight muscles.  The wing bones are very long for its size and has ten primary feathers on the wing that support rapid wing strokes.  The Ruby-throated hummer beats its wings 200 times per second while in courtship.  Let me repeat that amazing fact, 200 times per second!   No wonder the wings are a blur when in flight. The joint of the wing allows the wing to rotate 180 degrees.  This enables them to hover in air, fly upwards, sideways, upside down, forward and backwards.

Nectar and Bugs  Humming birds do not live on sweet nectar alone.  They eat a variety of tiny bugs for protein.  Bugs can be found inside flowers, on tree bark, swarming around the feeder, and even in a spider web.  Many people think it is the long beak that allows them to sip nectar.  Actually it is a even longer tongue that protrudes from the beak that licks the nectar.  Hummers will feed 5 to 8 times an hour.  Except during the night when they do not eat.  They are known to be able to conserve their energy and regulate the usage of sugar in their system, sustaining them through the night.    It is said that hummers prefer red flowers but they are attracted to all bright colors.  They seem to be most attracted to the white columbines in my yard.  They have no sense of smell which complicates the understanding of which flowers they are attracted too.  Mostly they will be drawn to the flowers with the sweetest nectar.  Humming birds are pollinators. Some flowers have developed to only be pollinated by hummers.  The Hedgehog cactus is one of them. 


Nectar Recipe. To make nectar for your feeder, mix one-part white sugar with 4 parts boiled water.  Dissolve the sugar and let it cool before filling the feeder.  Never use red food dye as it is harmful to the birds and never use a sugar substitute such as honey or molasses.  I have been told to make the nectar a bit sweeter in the early spring to attract them to your feeder and to make it a bit sweeter at Labor Day or the date in your area when they start to migrate south for the winter


How to Attract Humming Birds to Your feeder.  Think of the basics; food protection and reproduction.  First, hummers need substantial foliage for them hide from predators and to build a nest in safety.  They like pine trees, and aspens and cactus. This varies by region.  Some places it can even be a bush in tall grasses.  Next, they need fresh water for drinking.  Third they need food.  Bright colored flowers, particularly tubular shaped flowers will attract hummers.  Having a feeder to supplement flower nectar is also important. 


The Right Feeder Feeders need to be clean of bacteria and mildew which can cause death.  This is why it is very important to research and buy the best feeder that is easy for you and healthy for the bird.   A colored glass feeder that will deflect the sun’s rays will keep the nectar fresh longer.  This makes it easier for you.  Clear glass feeders are harder to maintain because the nectar will go rancid in 4 to 5 days and start growing mildew after that.  Hummers have great memories and once they have tasted rancid nectar at your feeder they will never come back.  To make things worse, they will tell all the other birdies that you are selling bad crack.  Thus a clear glass feeder requires more work and if you forget and do not do the work, you could lose your hummers for that season.  The colored glass feeders, depending on your situation, can go weeks without needing to clean out the feeder.  Also, the colored glass feeders are resistant to growing mildew.  It is so much easier just to rinse with warm water and refill the colored glass feeder. Hopefully, your hummers will have drained the feeder before then.  Red colored plastic is bad for releasing chemicals into the nectar.   Look for food safe plastics and metal flowers like copper.   I especially like the flowers on my feeder that are riveted into the top so replacement parts for the flowers are never needed.   Feeders that have many ports and niches inside the feeder base are prone to getting crusty with sugar and growing mildew.  All those angles and crannies are hard to clean.  Look for a feeder that is easy to clean  Some humming birds like to conserve energy while feeding so it is a good idea to provide them with a perch. Feeders with a plastic perch often will crack in the sun and break after the first year of use.  It is much better to find a feeder that has a build in perch that is part of the base.  Feeders that drip in the hot sun or in the wind are a nightmare.  Sugar gets on the ground attracting ants, raccoons, and wasps (or worse).  If you have a feeder that seems to go down in volume but you never see a humming bird then you have a dripping feeder.


Viewing hummers is best just before dark, when they are loading up on sugar before bedtime.  You can usually hear that high pitch noise before you see them. 

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