Hummingbirds are fascinating to watch

Published 7:30 am Saturday, January 21, 2023

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Have you ever been close enough to a hummingbird to take a good look at its movements as it suddenly sweeps in to sip the nectar from a feeder or a plant in bloom? I have not had feeders to attract them for several years, so I am always thrilled if any of the beautiful dainty miniature birds zoom unexpectedly in my direction seeking a sip of nectar from azaleas or other blooms.

Did you know that those little birds that resemble our human flying helicopters have long bones to which flight feathers are attached? If you have been lucky enough to closely observe, you will recognize that their wings are propelled to fly in various directions: backwards, forward, even upside down. As it is hovering taking care of gathering fuel, its body stays still but those wings constantly move up to 78 beats a second. It makes sense a hummer must work hard to keep itself going. That means they have to eat all day to do so. Besides the nectar from feeders and flowers, they also eat small insects, beetles, ants, gnats, mosquitoes wasps, and others

I just learned that the shape of the bill of each type of hummingbird matches the shape of the flower the bird feeds from. While it extracts the sweet liquid from the flowers, it also pollinates flowers with that extraordinary long tongue. It collects traces of pollen that is transferred to the next flower it visits.

A friend called one day to tell me a man was at her house awaiting a visit by some hummingbirds to one of her feeders. He hoped to capture one so he could band it to be traced to its future whereabouts. I rushed over and watched him gently capture one, measure it, weigh it, band it and record his findings. He actually helped me slip it carefully into my hand and I felt its racing heartbeat. What a thrill that was. I treasure the photos we made of the little bird in my hand.

Once on a camping vacation a friend spotted a tiny hummingbird nest with a couple of eggs about the size of a pea. It was attached to a tree branch. We all approached it carefully so we would not disturb it. By the way, I just learned that hummingbirds lay only two eggs. After hatching, the young birds hang around in the nest for several weeks.

When we had feeders, we noticed how pugnacious they can be. Many times I saw a hummer perched on a tree branch or clothesline, guarding its territory. When another one swooped in to attempt to get nectar, the watching hummer chased the visitor away.

These birds also have to stay on guard against predators. For example, the praying mantis can kill hummingbirds. They hang out at feeders, ready to attack the birds.

Hummingbirds are fascinating to watch and fun to learn about. I plan to get my feeders to work in the spring so I can resume watching them.