Naturalist’s Notebook: The Hummers Are Here!

Every year in early April, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds return to the Chattanooga area. Migrating from Mexico where they spent the winter, they arrived in the United States just two weeks ago. 

Ruby-throated Hummers weigh no more than a marble, but they fly non-stop across the Gulf of Mexico. A distance of more than 500 miles!

As soon as the hummingbirds reach land on the Gulf coast, they rest a bit after their long journey and then build up their energy to begin flying north.

Hummingbirds don’t eat seeds like other birds do, although like many birds, they will eat some small insects. Their very favorite food is sweet nectar, which gives them energy for their busy lifestyle. They drink a lot of nectar from flowers, as well as artificial nectar from hummingbird feeders. A hummer might visit a feeder every two or three minutes.

Nectar gives them the energy they need to flap their wings almost 50 times a second and to fly as fast as 30 miles an hour.  They also have the fastest heartbeat of any bird, 500 to 1200 beats per minute. (When you exercise, your heart probably only beats around 120 times a minute.) 

They are amazing acrobats and can fly backwards, upside down, do loops, or hover in one spot. You can see all these tricks by inviting them to spend some time in your yard. It is as easy as putting up a hummingbird feeder or growing some bright red petunias in a hanging basket. The color red will draw them right in. 

Expecting to see one soon, I filled a couple of hummingbird feeders and hung them in my yard. There are many different types of feeders. I’ve included pictures of mine, and I can promise you they work well. The important thing to remember is that a feeder needs the color red somewhere in the design.

Make your own nectar. All you need is sugar and water: 1 part sugar to 4 parts water. Mix them and bring them to a boil on the stove. Then, when your mixture cools, fill up your feeder and wait for the show!

I mentioned petunias earlier but many bright red flowers work. I love native wildflowers and try to have some red or bright pink ones blooming in early spring, just in case the hummingbirds wish to dine on natural nectar. I’ve seen them come to the hot pink blooms of creeping Phlox spilling down a bank, the red and yellow hanging blooms of Columbine, or the intense red star-shaped blooms of Fire Pink.

Give hummingbird feeding a try. You may be surprised how easy it is to observe these tiny and active birds.

Mr. Bill

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