Archive for Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Hummingbirds return to beautify backyard

August 26, 2009

The hummingbirds are back.

Twice a year they visit the feeders on our deck, although I haven’t seen them much. In fact, seeing them seems to rely on being willing to commit the time to sit and watch the feeders, waiting for their appearance.

However, this year, as luck would have it, I’ve happened to be watching several times when they’ve visited.

The ruby-throated hummingbird (archilochus colubris), according to my “Audubon Society Field Guide,” breeds from southern Canada to the Gulf Coast, then winters far to the south, ranging from Panama north to Mexico or even the immediate Gulf states.

They are some of the most colorful birds to be seen around our feeders. As is usually the case with birds, the male is the more colorful of the two. He is an iridescent green, with a white belly and a bright red patch on his throat. The female is of a duller hue, but still the same iridescent green. Her throat is white and she has a white band along the tip of her tail feathers.

The female lays two eggs about the size of a pea in a woven nest of plant down held together with spider silk.

My local expert, the lady at the store where I buy my seed and stuff, tells me they nest around here, although usually in locations with mature trees next to a body of water like a creek or pond.

We only seem to see them here twice a year, late in the spring or early summer and then, as now, late in the summer. My expert says they’re now on their southerly migration, and if the weather holds we may continue to see them until Halloween.

Although I suppose it’s entirely possible that they’ve been there all summer and I just haven’t been looking at the right time, we’ve seen them at our feeders only in the last week or so.

Hummingbirds are fascinating to watch, and the ruby-throat is no exception. They are the only birds that can hover or fly backwards. Their wings move so fast you can’t see them with the naked eye.

Sunday we took advantage of the cool temperatures of early evening to sit on the deck and watch.

The hummingbirds that come to our feeder have to contend with some fairly territorial goldfinches, which flutter around and dive at them to shoo them away.

The hummers are usually fairly persistent, however, and if they leave will usually return in a few minutes to sip from the nectar in the feeder. In the wild, they are attracted to bright red flowers like trumpet creeper vine.

As is true of most birds, their charged-up metabolism gives them quite an appetite. Ruby-throated hummingbirds consume twice their body weight each day.

That suggests a voraciousness that doesn’t seem apparent when you watch them, however. You could do a lot worse than to kick back and watch the birds on a cool summer evening.

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