Thursday, April 10, 2014

Ruby Throated Hummingbirds are Extraordinary

A flash of green and red, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird is eastern North America’s sole breeding hummingbird. These brilliant, tiny, precision-flying creatures glitter like jewels in the full sun, then vanish with a zip toward the next nectar source. Feeders and flower gardens are great ways to attract these birds, and some people turn their yards into buzzing clouds of hummingbirds each summer. Enjoy them while they’re around; by early fall they’re bound for Central America, with many crossing the Gulf of Mexico in a single flight. - The Cornell Lab of Ornithology

I find it amusing that hummingbirds can fly full out then stop in an instant.  They can hang motionless in midair and adjust positions up, down, sideways and backwards with precision control.  The males aggressively defend feeders and flowers, leading to wild chases and occasional jabs with the beak.  Males also display courtship behavior to females that enter their territory by making a looping, U-shaped dive starting high above the female.  I observed this type of behavior while sitting on my porch the other day.  The courtship of a pair is brief, lasting from days to a couple of weeks.  The male leaves the female on her own to build the nest and raise her offspring.  The nest is about the size of a quarter round and is made of thistle or dandelion down held together with strands of spider silk and sometimes pine resin. The female stamps on the base of the nest to stiffen it, but the walls remain pliable. She shapes the rim of the nest by pressing and smoothing it between her neck and chest.

Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds can not walk or hop because of their extremely short legs.  The best it can do is shuffle along a perch.  These birds prefer to feed on red or orange tubular flowers like honeysuckle or bee-balm but also love to sip on nectar at feeders and sometimes, tree sap.  They also prey on insects like mosquitoes, gnats, fruit flies, and small bees; also eats spiders.  Like many birds, hummingbirds have good color vision and can see into the ultraviolet spectrum, which humans can’t see.

You can attract Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds to your backyard by setting up hummingbird feeders or by planting tubular flowers. Make sugar water mixtures with about one-quarter cup of sugar per cup of water. Food coloring is unnecessary; table sugar is the best choice. Change the water before it grows cloudy or discolored and remember that during hot weather, sugar water ferments rapidly to produce toxic alcohol.

I love watching these tiny creatures.  They are definitely amusing.

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