Hail the Hummingbird
Updated: Feb 22, 2022
What goes twenty times per second? Would you believe the heart rate of a hummingbird? But it’s also the number of times their tongue dips in and out of a flower. Everything about this little bird is fast, especially when it comes to flying.
Different species flap their wings at different speeds and the average rate per second is about fifty to eighty; increasing up to 200 beats per second when they dive. To us, their wings are nothing but a blur. These dainty creatures are the most acrobatic birds on the planet. They can hover longer than any other bird and they are the only ones who can fly backwards! This is because their unique wing structure allows them to maneuver them into a figure eight pattern. They are fortunate to have this skill as their legs are only used to perch with – they are unable to walk or hop.
They also have a rapid metabolism. They are always hungry, as anyone with a hummingbird feeder can attest to. And no wonder, every day they need to eat around half of their bodyweight in order to survive. Their diet consists mostly of nectar, but they also eat small insects and spiders.
If you plant flowers in your garden to attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies, you won’t need to change a thing to invite the hummingbirds. For more related information, refer to the Full Flower Super Moon Eclipse newsletter.
Most hummingbirds live between three to five years but the longest recorded hummingbird living in captivity reached fourteen years. Altogether there are over 350 different species – all living in the Americas – and about ten percent of them are listed on the Endangered Species list. They may be nimble and agile, but they still have their fair share of natural predators. This is primarily due to their size. Cuba’s bee hummingbird is the smallest bird in the world and weighs in at under two grams (about the weight of a paperclip). Reptiles like snakes, lizards and frogs, and even fish can jump up out of the water to snatch one flying low enough. They are even prey to other birds such as corvids, kestrels, roadrunners, and shrikes. Add to that list praying mantises, spiders, bats, and owl. But another reason for their decreasing population is the loss and destruction of their habitat through urbanization, logging, and touristic development in the tropics. Even the most modest changes can have a tremendous negative impact on a creature so small. Then of course, there are the changes in food supply caused by climate change and the ongoing modifications along their migration routes.
Many hummingbirds winter in Central America and then migrate northwards for the breeding season in spring. These routes can be very long and impressive. For instance, the Rufous hummingbirds travels more than 6,000 kilometers from Mexico to Alaska, while the ruby-throated hummingbird will fly nonstop across the Gulf of Mexico – that’s 8oo kilometers and twenty hours of flying.
Unlike other birds that migrate in flocks, the hummingbird tends to fly solo. These graceful creatures are not necessarily gracious and tend to be quite anti-social. They are territorial and competitive when it comes to both their food and mating. The males will duel for the female, which can get rather nasty as they wield their sharp beaks like swords trying to stab the other in the throat.
As mentioned, hummingbirds need a lot of food to keep their little motors running and the best thing you can do is set out a feeder or two. It is incredibly entertaining, and don’t be surprised when the clock ticks along as you watch them flit and fly and wrestle for the nectar. It is so easy to make your own sugar water:
Place half a cup of refined sugar in a measuring cup
Add 1.5 cups of reverse osmosis or distilled water (or boiled).
Fully dissolve the sugar in the water and allow it to cool down if it was boiled.
Fill the feeder
If you prefer to buy your nectar, PLEASE avoid the ones with food colour. Yes, the hummingbird is attracted to bright flowers, and some even prefer red flowers over any other colour, but food dye can cause harm. Most hummingbird feeders are already manufactured with bright colours (especially red) to attract them. My most popular feeder is actually purple!
True or False:
“I need to take my feeder down before the end of summer or else the hummingbird will think it’s still summer and migrate home in time.”
Don’t worry about these little guys! Migration is not determined by their surroundings. It is the position of the Sun that tells them when it is time to migrate. Often they will leave and arrive at their breeding grounds on the same day every year! I tend to keep my feeders up until the end of September to help maintain the sustenance of hummingbirds travelling down from the north get to their southern destinations.