Hummingbirds: Avian Jewels

Booted Racket-Tail

Booted Racket-Tail

We are lucky to have a number of people in our area who are extremely knowledgeable birders. Monday night, our Bird Club featured a speaker who gave a fascinating talk and slideshow about hummingbirds. The speaker was none other than Virginia’s own birdman extraordinaire, Dr. John Spahr. He has traveled the world in hot pursuit of his avian passion.

Fiery Topaz,  Illustration by John Gould

Fiery Topaz, Illustration by John Gould

I learned that there are over 330 species of hummingbirds – all located in the Americas, from Alaska all the way down to the end of South America. There are no hummingbirds in Europe, Africa, or Asia (sorry). The largest number of hummingbird species (150+) are found in the small South American country of Ecuador.
Dr. Spahr showed us pictures of the most exotic-looking birds I never knew existed with impossible names such as Green Violetear, Long-tailed Sylph, Booted Racket-Tail, Spangled Coquette and Red Saberwing.

Empress Brilliant

Empress Brilliant

Can you imagine a punk-rock bird with a red mohawk, another one with a beak longer than its body, and one with white cotton balls around its feet? Yup, I am not making this up, I saw the pictures. And it’s always the males who are the most flamboyant, as if some painter designed them while under the influence of some hallucinatory drug.

Ecuadorian Hillstar

Ecuadorian Hillstar

Here, in Virginia, we have exactly one representative from the Trochilidae (Hummingbird) family: the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, named after the red patch on the male’s throat. The ruby throats mate and produce offspring (usually two) during the warmer months before migrating South for the winter. Every once in a while, an errant Anna’s Hummingbird or a Rufous Hummingbird might come through in late fall or even winter. These Western birds should be migrating to Mexico but sometimes find their way East instead. Here are two of “our” ruby throats: a male on the right (with red throat patch) and a female (with a whitish throat).

A male and female at the feeder

A male and female at the feeder

You often hear a hummingbird first, before you see them. They sound like a large droning insect with their wings flapping up to 200 times per second. Hummingbirds have an “elbow” joint in their wing that is a ball-and-socket joint and allows them to fly backwards and upside down as needed. In slow motion, you can see their wings perform a figure-eight pattern instead of an up and down motion.

Because of their rapid metabolism, hummers have to consume more than their body weight in nectar in one hour. So if a bird weighs 3 grams, it may have to consume close to 4 grams every hour, over 40 grams a day, or the equivalent of sipping 1000 to 2000 flowers each day.
Dr. Spahr also talked about the difference between the sugar water in the feeder and flower nectar. The birds get about 10 calories per feeding from the sugar water, but they get 30 calories per feeding from a flower. Flower nectar also provides electrolytes and small amounts of protein. He advised us not to buy the red-colored sugar solution that is commercially available. The home-made version (1 part sugar to 3 parts water, heated to dissolve the sugar, then cooled) is superior to the colored commercial product.

The hummingbirds’ attractive, iridescent colors are derived, not from pigment on the feathers, but from the feather structure itself. This is why the throat color (also called gorget) of a ruby-throated male can appear black, red, or orange. The following pictures show various levels of red and orange coloring depending on head position and light reflection. I also included an immature male with only some dots of throat coloring which will turn into the full-fledged gorget as he matures into adulthood.

I am hoping that our hummingbird feeders are helping these birds reduce their level of exertion, especially now as they are preparing for migration. They will fly South to the Gulf States. From there, and after doubling their liver size through glucose storage, they cross 500 miles of open ocean to overwinter in Mexico or another Latin American country. If they are lucky, they might rest a few moments on a cruise ship or oil rig.

The first three hummingbird pictures were taken from a Wikipedia site. All the pictures of the Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds are mine. You can see more pictures of exotic hummingbirds on this Wikipedia link.

About Beauty Along the Road

My name is Annette. I am passionate about nature, health, simplicity, self-reliance, truth, and life-long learning. Originally from Germany, I now live in Virginia, USA. I am a therapist, health coach, writer, photographer, and organic gardener.
This entry was posted in Animals and Critters and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

39 Responses to Hummingbirds: Avian Jewels

  1. This is a great post, very informative plus all the terrific shots of the birds in your yard. We have several feeders ourselves (by the way, where did you get that upside-down bottle style?) and take great delight in watching them. Fortunately, we have the sugar/water formula going but based on your revelation that flowers are 3X better, we had best pick up our game in that area. Thanks for the post.

    Like

    • Hi Robin – thanks for reading and commenting. The upside-down feeder is at a friend’s house. It may be a home-made version. This is a good time to increase the sugar in the water a bit since they need to store additional glucose. You can even keep up the feeders into the winter just in case there are some stragglers.

      Like

  2. Loca Gringa says:

    Absolutely lovely!

    Like

  3. Really great post with lovely images. thank you sharing all these interesting facts.🙂

    Like

  4. Cathy says:

    These were so gorgeous. Growing up we had a bird feeder near our kitchen window, and my parents left a book of birds so we could look them up as they flew near. But, in NJ we don’t have these extraordinary birds.

    I often thought I’d love to bird watch – but I don’t know the first thing about it!

    Thanks for bringing this to my attention. These are incredibly beautiful birds. I never knew about them! I love your photos. You must be a wonderful photographer!

    Like

    • Hi Cathy – you don’t need any experience to watch birds. Just do it, then start looking them up in a bird ID book. Bit by bit, you’ll learn more. Each spring, I greet them like old friends – oh, look, the first Robin! Oh, there’s a glint of yellow in the grass, that’s Meadowlark. They are beautiful to watch but also an integral part of our eco-system to protect. Thanks for visiting and commenting.

      Like

  5. Outstanding photos, Annette. Question for you. I got rid of my hummingbird feeders a few years ago because of bees. I have lots of salvia, lantana, sage which the hummingbirds love. Do you think that’s enough for them? I only have two or three hummers regularly visiting the garden.

    Like

    • Hi Barbara, there’s a way to insert a small plastic container between the hook and the feeder, fill it with water, so the ants can’t get to the feeder. It’s harder to describe than it actually is to do….you’ll see a lot more hummingbirds when you put up a feeder especially now, just before migration…

      Like

  6. Wow! No hummers in Europe, Africa, or Asia? I had no idea. In Nicaragua, it is impossible to find hummingbird feeders and hummer food. I make my own food following your recipe and put the excess in the refrigerator. Thank goodness we always have a variety of flowers blooming for the electrolytes and protein. I’m wondering what I can add to the sugar water to give them electrolytes? I’ll have to do some more research. Thanks, Annette. This post is fascinating.

    Like

    • Hi Debbie – you probably don’t have to worry about finding a source of electrolytes. In the tropical regions, there’s always something in bloom year-round, so the hummers get their nutrition; but it is a good question. “Gatorade” supposedly adds electrolytes but I won’t put that in my own body, far less offer it to a hummingbird….:-)

      Like

  7. jpeggytaylor says:

    Fascinating post! We love to watch all kinds of birds here in the UK. Swallows are probably are our best known migrant birds. We watch for them arriving in Spring and then look out for them gathering on the telephone wires in their groups in September, ready to fly back to Africa. Migration over such vast distances is certainly one of nature’s wonders.

    Like

  8. Lovely post Annette. I see humming birds every day from the window of my little home office, before I see them I can hear their sounds. They have become little sweet friends to me.

    Like

  9. How lovely to have these beautiful birds in your yard, Annette! I see that there are three species of these birds in Florida, and I intend to buy some feeders to see if I can attract some to my backyard. I read that one also needs to plant, red, pink and orange flowers in the garden. Gorgeous pics.🙂

    Like

  10. So lovely, as usual. I spotted a hummingbird hovering in our shrubbery the other day. Too late for a snap. I am delighted to find pics here–especially of our Virginia treasures.

    Like

  11. I recently saw humming birds, when I was visiting a friend since she had a special feeder for them. They did not stay still for a second, so I find your pictures: “work of art”. Maybe you can have another post that will tell us how? to take pictures of these fast birds.
    Thank you Annette!

    Like

    • If you have a “sports” setting (for fast action) on your camera, that’s the setting to use. The regular settings are too slow. Also, when you click a dozen pics at once (thru the sports setting), you are likely to get one that’s decent and hopefully not blurred. I am sure there are photo experts who can accomplish this with manual settings, a tripod, special shutter speeds, etc. but I’m not that kind of a photographer🙂 (yet).

      Liked by 1 person

  12. lauramacky says:

    Those photos are amazing!!! I really enjoyed them. Thank you for this post and the beautiful photos.

    Like

  13. Pingback: Safely Enveloped: Hummer Rescue | The Beauty Along the Road

  14. W.H. SIM says:

    Beauty,

    This is a very nicely written article! I really envy those who have seen those South and Central American hummingbirds.

    We have gotten one sighting of three Ruby-Throats this summer (in the mountains of BC, Canada) and an even more incredible recent sighting of a Magnificent Hummingbird in the BC interior. This would be the equivalent of seeing the Xantus hummingbird in Gibsons, BC, in 1997!

    http://bcbirdalert.blogspot.ca/2015/07/magnificent-hummingbird-relocated-in.html
    http://bcbirdalert.blogspot.ca/2015/07/magnificent-hummingbird-north-of.html

    Cheers,
    Hui

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Pingback: Summer Pleasures – Watching Hummingbirds | The Beauty Along the Road

Let me know what you think!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s