How much do you know about the hummingbirds that visit your nectar feeder?
By the first week of September, hummingbirds start migrating south, refueling their bodies in the mornings, migrating some middays, and feeding during late afternoons to maintain their body weight – powered by flower nectars, minute insects and spiders, and the sugar-water nectar provided by birders across the country. When eastern birders talk about hummingbirds, they are referring to Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, usually the only species in the eastern half of the United States. Western birders on the other hand might be referring to one or more of the eight hummingbird species that range in the western half of America: Rufous, Allen’s, Anna’s, Costa’s, Black-chinned, Calliope, Broad-tailed, and Buff-bellied Hummingbirds!
Overall, among the nine species that regularly nest north of Mexico, most prefer Mexico as their wintering range, although a couple species slip farther south into Belize and Guatemala, and Ruby-throats winter from southern Mexico to the edge of Panama.
Now, Ruby-throats are beginning to gather along the Gulf Coast in southern Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida in preparation for their remarkable flight south, over the Gulf of Mexico to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, or via an overland route that mostly follows the contour of the Gulf Coast of Mexico. Some western species of hummingbirds migrate south along the Rocky Mountains into Mexico, others follow the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Pacific Coast, or open expanses of the Great Basin. Below is a species by species description of the wintering areas of the nine hummingbird species listed above:
A flash of green and red, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird is eastern North America’s sole breeding hummingbird. These brilliant, tiny, precision-flying creatures glitter like jewels in the full sun, then vanish with a zip toward the next nectar source. Feeders and flower gardens are great ways to attract these birds, and some people turn their yards into buzzing clouds of hummingbirds each summer. Enjoy them while they’re around; by early fall they’re bound for Central America, with many crossing the Gulf of Mexico in a single flight.
You can attract Ruby-throated Hummingbirds to your backyard by setting up hummingbird feeders or by planting tubular flowers. Make sugar water mixtures with about one-quarter cup of sugar per cup 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. Be careful about where you put your hummingbird feeders, as some cats have learned to lie in wait to catch visiting hummingbirds. Find out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.
The Ruby-throated Hummingbird beats its wings about 53 times a second.
The extremely short legs of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird prevent it from walking or hopping. The best it can do is shuffle along a perch. Nevertheless, it scratches its head and neck by raising its foot up and over its wing.
Scientists place hummingbirds and swifts in the same taxonomic order, the Apodiformes. The name means “without feet,” which is certainly how these birds look most of the time.
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds prefer to feed on red or orange flowers (though it’s not necessary to color the sugar water you put in a hummingbird feeder). Like many birds, hummingbirds have good color vision and can see into the ultraviolet spectrum, which humans can’t see.
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds normally place their nest on a branch of a deciduous or coniferous tree; however, these birds are accustomed to human habitation and have been known to nest on loops of chain, wire, and extension cords.
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are eastern North America’s only breeding hummingbird. But in terms of area, this species occupies the largest breeding range of any North American hummingbird.
Male Ruby-throated Hummingbirds don’t stick around long. Pairs are together long enough for courtship and mating – just a matter of days to weeks. Then he’s off on his own, and may begin migration by early August. Keep an eye out for any unusual-looking hummingbirds and be sure to report them when you see them. Share some of your backyard birding experiences and photos at firstname.lastname@example.org