People tell me that I use the word amazing too much, but what other word should I use for hummingbirds? They are amazing, fascinating creatures. They are tiny and tenacious little jewels right outside our windows. They inspire us with names like Sun Angels, Streamertail, and Magnificent.
Did you know that hummingbirds are only found in the Americas? There are 320 species of hummingbirds, and most live in Central and South America. While these hummingbirds do not migrate, the ones that live in the United States do. The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is our summer hummingbird. They migrate long distances over the Gulf of Mexico. How do they perform that amazing feat?
Food is an essential part of a hummingbird’s life. Their vision is equivalent to my eight-power binoculars; they can see flowers or feeders about three-quarters of a mile away. And while red is often the color associated with hummingbirds, they aren’t color-restrictive. Rather, they go to the flowers that have the most nectar. In researching this column, I discovered that hummingbirds go to red flowers because bees and wasps do not see this color as well. If bees are not feeding on these red flowers, hummingbirds can feed undisturbed.
Hummingbirds need to feed because they have a high metabolism. Their hearts beat 250 beats a minute when resting and 1,200 beats a minute when feeding. They need to eat every 15 minutes to maintain the energy to thrive and survive. At night, hummingbirds do something else that is amazing. They slow their hearts down and go into torpor, which is similar to hibernation. This deep sleep helps keep their energy levels from dropping to dangerous levels.
When our little Ruby-throated Hummingbirds migrate, they need lots of food, nectar, and insect protein to triple their weight. Then, they fly — and no, they don’t hitch a ride with other birds. Under their own power, these tiny creatures fly out across the Gulf of Mexico to the Yucatan Peninsula. This nonstop trip takes 18 hours.
We can help prepare a table for these marathon birds; and not only is this is fun to do, but it also will enhance your yard. First, look at what to plant for these little jewels. I spoke to Eamonn Leonard, the plant guy at Georgia Department of Natural Resources. He knows what will grow on our coast. He recommends native plants such as Coral Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens), the native hibiscus (Hibiscus aculeatus, Hibiscus moschoetos, Hibiscus grandiflora, Hibiscus coccinea, and Kosteletzkya virginiana), Coral bean (Erythrina herbacea), Scarlet Sage (Salvia coccinea), Spotted Beebalm (Monarda punctata), Crossvine (Bignonia capreaolata), and Trumpet vine (Campsis radicans). “Don’t plant hummingbird vine (Ipomea quamoclit), as it can be a weed and is not native. Don’t plant Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica),” he says.
Second, we can put up a feeder for the little jewels. There are a good many designs of hummingbird feeders. Choose the one you like because you are the one that is going to be watching it. I like ones that are easy to clean because you need to clean it often. The food is simple. It is one-part white refined sugar and four parts water. I make enough for several cleanings. And please, no red food coloring! It could hurt the hummingbird.
Once you put up our feeders and plant pretty native plants, sit back and relax. If a Ruby-throated Hummingbird discovers your yard and feeder, you are going to see why I keep using the word amazing.