Hummertime, and the Living Is … Breezy?
By Margaret DiBenedetto
Well, it can be breezy, if you have any hummers that like to dive bomb you; within a whisker of those wings, you can feel the wind they create against your face. And you can hear the buzzing drone of those wingbeats from some distance away.
The Ruby-throated hummer is native to New York, and although there are sometimes renegade visitors of other species, the Ruby-throat is most likely the only one you will ever see. Or hear. Because those afore-mentioned Ruby-throated wings average about 55 beats per second, the fastest wing beats of all of the hummingbird species. And when involved in courtship fighting, those wings are whizzing at over 200 beats per second! It’s therefore no wonder they can make a noise so disproportionate to their body size.
Hummingbirds usually arrive in Halcott by the 1st of May, so we try to have our feeders up and ready before then. (Our resident chickadees and orioles, who have grown fond of sugar water too, are often the first sippers and are very appreciative when we finally get the feeders up.)
Like other species, Male hummers arrive first, to stake out their territory. At our house, it seems to be the same three males, year after year, who chase each other around, keeping us amused for hours. We have strategically placed three feeders on different sides of the house, which keeps the Alpha male on constant duty, but allows the two hopeful Rubes a chance at some nectar and a little respite.
Later on, the female shows up, and somewhere around the perimeter of our lawn, they will build a tiny nest, the size of a large thimble, and deposit 1-3 teeny eggs, about a half-inch long and not quite as wide. After two weeks or so, babies hatch out, and before long, we end up with more little moth-sized hummers now vying for the nectar, and it is very handy to have those extra feeders up to accommodate everyone – at least 4 adults, by now 3 chickadees, 3 baby hummers, and thank goodness the orioles taper off for a more protein-rich diet when their young hatch. Some summers we’ll see a second hummer brood, hatched out not long before migration begins.
Preparing sugar water for your hummers is easy. Wash your feeders with hot water before each filling to stem the growth of mold and bacteria. Mix one cup of cane sugar to four cups of warm water, stir well, and fill your feeders. Food coloring can be harmful and is totally unnecessary; the birds don’t need it and don’t seem to prefer it. The feeders should be easy to clean, and provide perches for the dining pleasure of your entertainers.
In addition to feeders, the hummers will of course go to flowers they find tasty,and will also take advantage of any tree sap that’s available. Hummers are prolific insectivores, as well, and get their protein from mosquitoes, gnats, caterpillars, fruit flies, aphids, spiders… so in exchange for encouraging the little hummers with feeders, they will repay your kindness with pest control. Please note: the use of insecticides when you have hummers is not only unnecessary, but is also bad for the birds who are eating your bugs!