Incredible Hummingbirds

Hummingbird at Feeder Courtesy and Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
Hummingbird at Feeder
Courtesy and Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
Having witnessed people in poverty, as well as starving animals, I can never condone the fascination some Americans have with Hot Dog Eating Contests. Yet humans are poor competitors when compared to some members of the animal kingdom.

To simplify the math, let’s say you weigh 100 pounds. Imagine eating 150 pounds of food every day just to maintain your energy level! I have about twenty guests at my home near Logan right now that eat one and one-half times their body weight every day, and they’ve been doing it for months. Hummingbirds!

Hummingbirds at Feeder Courtesy and Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
Hummingbirds at Feeder
Courtesy and Copyright Ron Hellstern, Photographer
We have a good mix of Broad-Tailed, Black-Chinned, and Rufous Hummingbirds that are busy at our feeders from early morning until 9:00pm. Those three are the most common species in Utah although others, like the Anna’s, Costa’s and Calliopes are seen in our Southern regions. And even though we have plenty of feeding stations at our home, it’s interesting how they will usually try to scare each other off each time they approach a feeder. I keep telling them to share, but they won’t listen to me.

Their need for food makes sense due to their tremendous expenditure of energy. Their heart rates are the fastest of any bird species at about 500 beats per minute…when resting, and 1,200 beats when flying. And their wings beat up to 90 times…per second. Even their breathing is race-paced at 250 breaths per minute. They basically need to refuel constantly.

Speaking about flying, they can go forward, backward, and even upside down. And while their speed can approach nearly 50 miles per hour, they don’t shirk at long distances. They winter in the tropics, but some will travel up to 2,500 miles one way to breed in Canada and Alaska.

Some scientists are concerned about rising temperatures because flowers are blooming earlier in northern areas, which means that food source may be gone when the hummingbirds arrive.
While they also eat insects, you can attract hummingbirds to your yards with the right plants. They like nectar plants like Columbines, Honeysuckle, Penstemon, Paintbrush, Bleeding Hearts and Trumpet Vines. You can also supplement those nectar sources with feeders.

They are attracted to the color red, but don’t buy commercial food mixes that have food coloring in them because it is harmful to them. And never use honey or artificial sweeteners. Just boil 4 parts water to one part white-granulated sugar. Let it cool and fill your feeders. And in most cases, if you fill it, they will come.
If you’re lucky, the little guys may like your wildlife habitat so much they may even nest there, although those are difficult to see since they aren’t much larger than a quarter. They generally lay two eggs about the size of navy beans, but please don’t disturb the little nest or chicks.

Plant the correct flowers, nesting habitat, and put up feeders, and you may experience one of nature’s flying wonders…the Hummingbird.

This is Ron Hellstern, and I am Wild About Utah.
 
Credits:

Images: Courtesy & Copyright Ron Hellstern
Text: Ron Hellstern, Cache Valley Wildlife Association

Additional Reading

Strand, Holly, Hummingbirds in Utah, Wild About Utah, Sept 3, 2009,
https://wildaboututah.org/hummingbirds-in-utah/

Greene, Jack, Rufus Hummingbird, Wild About Utah, Aug 3, 2015,
https://wildaboututah.org/rufous-hummingbird/

Liberatore, Andrea, Hummingbird Nests, Wild About Utah, Jun 14, 2012,
https://wildaboututah.org/hummingbird-nests/

Kervin, Linda, Gardening for Hummingbirds, June 5, 2014, https://wildaboututah.org/gardening-hummingbirds/

Rufous Hummingbirds

Rufus Hummingbird Courtesy US FWS, Roy W, Lowe, Photographer
Rufus Hummingbird
Courtesy US FWS,
Roy W. Lowe, Photographer

Who doesn’t love hummingbirds! I’m always amazed how a tiny life form with a brain smaller than a pea is capable of such amazing intelligence and behaviors. In fact, a hummingbird’s brain is proportionally larger in size to their body than that of any other bird. And like the corvid family (jays, magpies, and crows), research has found that hummers have an amazing memory.

Now is the seasonal peak for hummingbird activity with young birds fresh off the nest. One of my favorites, the migrating rufous hummingbird, may join the milieu on their long distance marathon as they make their way from as far north as Alaska to winter in Mexico.

The feistiest hummingbird in North America, the brilliant orange male and the green-and-orange female are relentless attackers at flowers and feeders. These fearless competitors will challenge even the largest hummingbirds of the Southwest, which can be double their weight, and often win the contest! Rufous Hummingbirds are wide-ranging, and breed farther north than any other hummingbird. Look for them in spring in California, summer in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, and now in the Rocky Mountains as they make their annual circuit of the West.

Rufous Hummers have the hummingbird gift for fast, darting flight and pinpoint maneuverability. Like other hummers, they eat insects as well as nectar, taking them from spider webs or catching them in midair.

Rufous Hummingbirds breed in open areas, yards, parks, and forests up to timberline. On migration they pass through mountain meadows as high as 12,600 feet where nectar-rich, tubular flowers are blooming. Winter habitat in Mexico includes shrubby openings and oak-pine forests at middle to high elevation.

They may take up residence (at least temporarily) in your garden if you grow hummingbird flowers or put out feeders. But beware! They may make life difficult for any other species that visit your yard. If you live on their migration route, the visiting Rufous is likely to move on after just a week or two.

Regarding feeders, make sugar water mixtures with about one cup of sugar per quart 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. If you are among those who have these dazzling sprites of amazing life stop by, consider yourself fortunate indeed!

This is Jack Greene reading for “Wild About Utah”

Credits:

Pictures: Courtesy US FWS, Roy W Lowe, Photographer
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Strand, Holly, Hummingbirds in Utah, Wild About Utah, UPR/Bridgerland Audubon Society, Sept 3, 2009, https://wildaboututah.org/hummingbirds-in-utah/

Kervin, Linda, Gardening for Hummingbirds, Wild About Utah, UPR/Bridgerland Audubon Society, June 5, 2014, https://wildaboututah.org/hummingbirds-in-utah/

Liberatore, Andrea, Hummingbird Nests, Wild About Utah, UPR/Bridgerland Audubon Society, June 14, 2012, https://wildaboututah.org/hummingbird-nests/

Hummingbird Society, http://www.hummingbirdsociety.org/index.php

Coro Arizmendi Arriaga, Maria del, Hummingbirds of
Mexico and North America, In Spanish and English, CONABIO, 2014, http://www.biodiversidad.gob.mx/Difusion/pdf/colibries_mexico_y_norteamerica.pdf

Rufous Hummingbird

Rufus Hummingbird Courtesy US FWS, Roy W, Lowe, Photographer
Rufus Hummingbird
Courtesy US FWS,
Roy W. Lowe, Photographer

Who doesn’t love hummingbirds! I’m always amazed how a tiny life form with a brain smaller than a pea is capable of such amazing intelligence and behaviors. In fact, a hummingbird’s brain is proportionally larger in size to their body than that of any other bird. And like the corvid family (jays, magpies, and crows), research has found that hummers have an amazing memory.

Now is the seasonal peak for hummingbird activity with young birds fresh off the nest. One of my favorites, the migrating rufous hummingbird, may join the milieu on their long distance marathon as they make their way from as far north as Alaska to winter in Mexico.

The feistiest hummingbird in North America, the brilliant orange male and the green-and-orange female are relentless attackers at flowers and feeders. These fearless competitors will challenge even the largest hummingbirds of the Southwest, which can be double their weight, and often win the contest! Rufous Hummingbirds are wide-ranging, and breed farther north than any other hummingbird. Look for them in spring in California, summer in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, and now in the Rocky Mountains as they make their annual circuit of the West.

Rufous Hummers have the hummingbird gift for fast, darting flight and pinpoint maneuverability. Like other hummers, they eat insects as well as nectar, taking them from spider webs or catching them in midair.

Rufous Hummingbirds breed in open areas, yards, parks, and forests up to timberline. On migration they pass through mountain meadows as high as 12,600 feet where nectar-rich, tubular flowers are blooming. Winter habitat in Mexico includes shrubby openings and oak-pine forests at middle to high elevation.

They may take up residence (at least temporarily) in your garden if you grow hummingbird flowers or put out feeders. But beware! They may make life difficult for any other species that visit your yard. If you live on their migration route, the visiting Rufous is likely to move on after just a week or two.

Regarding feeders, make sugar water mixtures with about one cup of sugar per quart 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. If you are among those who have these dazzling sprites of amazing life stop by, consider yourself fortunate indeed!

This is Jack Greene reading for “Wild About Utah”

Credits:

Pictures: Courtesy US FWS, Roy W Lowe, Photographer
Text: Jack Greene, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Coro Arizmendi Arriaga, Maria del, Hummingbirds of
Mexico and North America, In Spanish and English, CONABIO, 2014, http://www.biodiversidad.gob.mx/Difusion/pdf/colibries_mexico_y_norteamerica.pdf

Gardening for Hummingbirds

Heuchera, hummingbird host. Courtesy and Copyright Jim Cane, Photographer
Huechera
Courtesy & © Jim Cane, Photographer

 
Penstemon hummingbird host Courtesy and Copyright Jim Cane, PhotographerPenstemon eatonii
Courtesy & © Jim Cane, Photographer

 

At long last, summer has returned as have the hummingbirds who zip around my garden, visiting flowers and chasing off intruders. (Kevin Colver: Songbirds of Rocky Mountain Foothills. Broad-tailed Hummingbird) Hummingbirds are a delight in the yard and so we plant flowers specifically to attract and feed them. In general, hummingbirds prefer long tubular flowers especially those that are red, orange or violet. But not all these flowers are created equally.

Hummingbirds visit flowers for their nectar which fuels their flight. Their long tongue reaches well beyond the tip of their needle like bill when they lap up nectar; capillary action then draws the sweet liquid up tiny grooves along the length of the tongue.

Floral nectar evolved to attract potential pollinators. The floral nectary is generally found inside the flower, at the base. When probing for nectar, floral visitors brush by the reproductive structures. Pollen adheres to parts of their body and then at the next flower of the same species, some pollen sticks to the female stigma. This transfer is pollination.

Many nectar-rich flowers grow well in Utah gardens. In the xeric garden, Penstemons are a good choice, as are Red Hot Pokers and Zauschneria, sometimes called Hummingbird Trumpet. In more moist sites, red flowered Heuchera is popular. Some red flowered cacti and Trumpet Creeper are good choices, as are Agastache and many Salvias.

Watch which flowers hummers visit. They will check out many blooms, but the ones they routinely return to are the ones yielding generous nectar. Many flowers produce little or no nectar, including some that look to us like good hummingbird flowers. Also, many horticultural hybrids and doubled flowers produce paltry amounts of nectar.

To encourage hummingbirds to remain in your garden, you can grow trees and shrubs for cover. Nectar is only part of their diet. For protein, they regularly eat insects and spiders small enough for their tiny bill so a garden free of insects is not desirable. They also appreciate a place to perch where they can digest, wait for a tasty insect to fly by and keep an eye out for potential rivals. So grab your trowel and lets feed those hummers.(Kevin Cover: Songbirds of Rocky Mountain Foothills. Broad-tailed Hummingbird)

This is Linda Kervin for Bridgerland Audubon Society.

Credits:

Images: Courtesy
Text: Linda Kervin, Bridgerland Audubon Society

Additional Reading:

Hummingbirds and How to Attract Them, Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/hummingbirds/

Hummingbirds 101, The Hummingbird Society, http://www.hummingbirdsociety.org/hummingbirds-101/

Coro Arizmendi Arriaga, Maria del, Hummingbirds of
Mexico and North America, In Spanish and English, CONABIO, 2014, http://www.biodiversidad.gob.mx/Difusion/pdf/colibries_mexico_y_norteamerica.pdf