Hummingbirds among God’s wonders

Published 2:07 am Saturday, September 26, 2015

I have not put out feeders for humming birds in several years, but that does not mean that I have lost interest in them. They are such fascinating little creatures. I recently heard about one that buzzed by a person wearing a red cap. A friend said one regularly perches on a little bird swing on her porch, but flies away every time she tries to snap its picture. Someone else told me that dozens of them visited her yard lately, competing with each other for a chance at her feeders. I wonder if this is the season for a frantic rush to refuel before leaving for the long flight back home.

Once when our feeders dangled in full view from our glassed-in back porch, my husband and I watched bunches of hummers whirl, quarrel, and attack each other in an attempt to get to the feeder. That happened when a hurricane approached our area.

People probably have been fascinated with these birds ever since they made an appearance on earth. And why not? They are such tiny bundles of beauty and energy. Would you ever think about killing hummingbirds? I was surprised to learn that sometimes people killed and skinned them to use the skin and plumage for decorations. The ancient Aztec wore ceremonial cloaks fashioned from hummingbird plumage. In Europe in the 1800s, people wore hats and jewelry decorated with dried hummingbird skins.

If you have any interest in hummingbirds, you know the most common hummingbird visitor in our area is the ruby–throated, although there are a few others that also visit. The ruby-throated hummingbird is from three to four inches long. It comes from across the Gulf of Mexico in the early spring. Most others are about the same size, but there are extremes on both sides. There is a bee hummingbird that weighs 1/15th of an ounce and is only two inches long. It is the smallest known. The largest, the giant hummingbird, reaches over eight inches long. It weighs 3/5 ounce.

If you watch hummingbirds consuming liquid in your feeders, you probably think they poke their long bills inside feeders and flowers and suck out the nectar. I thought so, too. It is not true, according to a couple of authors of a book about hummers in North America. They say it has been determined that the little creatures lick the nectar with those long tongues at a speed of thirteen licks per second.

If you are observant, you cannot help but notice those miniature wings whir at an unbelievable speed. At times, they beat their wings at a rate of 200 times a second. It is crucial that they eat about half their weight in sugar daily to keep up their energy level. If you are lucky enough to find a hummingbird nest, it will be very tiny and hold eggs the size of jellybeans.

I think hummingbirds rate right up there with other wonders God gave us to enjoy.

Nina Keenam is a former reporter.