Encountering a hummingbird for the first time is one of the most unique experiences in memory for me. I remember it very well and it was bewildering, initially, and then I just felt awe. This tiny exquisite creature was beating its wings like crazy and it could hover around a flower better than a bee! This wasn’t near a hummingbird feeder like most people will see. My mother planted Four o’clocks on the south side of our house when I was pretty small and I found they do attract hummingbirds along with butterflies and some frightening-looking insects called sphinx moths, too. I have since found out that they can fly backward, upside down or sideways and most don’t ever walk but they will perch, briefly, and use their wings to propel themselves when they change position.
Later on, I remember seeing hummingbirds around a feeder in a neighbor’s garden and became even more fascinated that they would be attracted to such a simple lure. They have to eat at least every thirty minutes except when they sleep and their main food source is nectar from flowers or tree blossoms. The nectar from flowers is basically about the same composition as the feeder nectar- sugar and water. Feeders help them tremendously but they are voracious in that they feed on the nectar of hundreds of flowers every day. If a human was as physically active as a hummingbird the equivalent would be drinking about 638 sugary soft drinks every day ! If you’re concerned that they may not leave anything for insects you’ll be glad to know that hummingbirds are only attracted to red to the point that they’ll go after clothes and even lipstick! The insects can’t see red and pass those by in favor of others.
Colorado is home to the broad-tailed ruby throated hummingbird and they are magnificently colorful. Matter of fact, most of them are unless something unusual happens. Not too long ago someone sent me an e-mail of an albino hummingbird which amazed me and these are just a couple of the photos I saved. According to what I have read the bird’s brightest colors come from the actual composition of the feathers. Tiny layers of feather cells break the light into diaphanous colors in the way water disperses light into a rainbow. In the dark, the hummingbird can’t be seen because of the composition of the feathers, so unless bright sunlight or some kind of light is refracted off its feathers you won’t see any color at all. It might be interesting to see what the albino hummingbirds look like in the dark !
Another fact, which might surprise you, is that they can migrate from as far away as Mexico (in some cases, 600 miles!) and it’s possible for them to fly up to 20 hours, straight. I don’t think I could do that much on a plane! Because of the energy needed for such a small creature they must go on a huge feeding binge for two weeks before taking off for the skies. By the time they reach their destination they will burn half their body weight !
Mother hummingbirds do make nests which consists of small bits of plants bound together with spider webs! It turns out that spider webs are so marvelously flexible that they can accommodate the baby hummingbirds as they increase in size. The nests are made comfortable with frayed bits of cattails, dandelion seed fluff and even bits of cotton. Hummingbirds are also so diverse that there are about 331 known species while about one-tenth of that number are endangered but only 16 members of that spectrum exist within the United States. Most of those hundreds of species live around the Caribbean islands or near the equator which is basically South America.
Just humming along,
The Castle Lady
Happy Earth Day !