It’s no wonder that hummingbirds are often referred to as “flying jewels.” Their iridescent colors illuminate as no diamond or ruby gemstone can. They are brilliant in color and captivating in personality.
Northern Kentucky is home to a single species of hummingbird, the ruby-throated hummingbird. Of the 23 species of hummingbirds that frequent North America, the ruby-throat is the only one that breeds in the eastern United States and is the second most widely distributed hummingbird in North America. They are easily attracted to suburban and rural flower gardens and will readily feed on sugar-water solutions offered in artificial feeders. They are a joy to watch.
Ruby-throats arrive in our area mid-April from their wintering grounds in southern Mexico, Panama, the Bahamas, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Their arrival is timed to coincide with the blooming of spring flowers, providing a ready food source.
Hummingbirds consume 100 percent of their body weight daily in nectar. They also eat insects and spiders for essential proteins. When probing blossoms they pick up pollen, which is then passed on to other flowers. By pollinating flowers they propagate our gardens and ensure their own food source.
Ruby-throats mate through May and are nesting by June. After mating, the male no longer participates in family activities. It’s “love em and leave em” for the promiscuous male hummingbird.
The nest is totally constructed by the female. No other bird makes a nest like the hummer. About the size of a green walnut, the small nest is made of plant down and bud scales. It’s covered with lichens for camouflage and held together with spider’s silk. The female normally lays two eggs, each about the size of a pinto bean. She incubates her eggs for about two weeks, and by three weeks after hatching the young have left the nest and are on their own. Amazingly, the female does not teach her young to fly; they instinctively know how.
It’s easy to attract hummingbirds. Many folks plant flowers attractive to hummers such as bee balm, columbine, cardinal flower, foxglove and trumpet creeper (trumpet creeper provides 10 times more nectar than any other hummingbird flower). Additionally, folks add artificial feeders to their gardens.
“A well maintained feeder is a hummingbird’s dream come true,” said Scott Fedders of Fedders Feed and Seed. “One feeder can provide the nectar equivalent of 2,000 to 4,000 flowers.” A simple solution of one part granulated sugar to 4 parts water is recommended. “That ratio is real close to the nectar found naturally in flowers hummingbirds are attracted to,” said Scott. He recommends boiling the solution for no more than 2 minutes, cooling and storing excess in the refrigerator for further use. It’s important to keep feeders clean and change the sugar-water solution every 2 to 3 days. Red dye is not necessary as most feeders have sufficient red coloring to attract hummers.
Hummingbirds are an amazing show. They are extremely territorial and will perform flight displays unequaled by any fighter pilot. Their swift flight and acrobatics will bedazzle.
Amazing Hummingbird Facts
- A ruby-throated hummingbird weighs one-tenth the weight of a first-class letter, or about the weight of 2 1/2 paper clips.
- An average hummingbird consumes its weight in nectar each day, feeding 5 to 8 times each hour.
- If an average man had a metabolism comparable to that of a hummingbird, he’d have to eat 285 pounds of hamburger daily to maintain his weight.
- Hummingbirds cruise at about 27 mph, with courtship flights reaching up to 60 mph.
- The ruby-throat’s wings beat an average of 53 times per second and up to 200 times per second during a display dive.
- A hummingbird’s heart beats an average of 1,260 times per minute.
- A resting hummingbird takes 250 breaths per minute.
- Hummers can fly forward, backward, and even upside down.
- A single hummingbird can capture up to 2,000 insects a day.
- Migrating hummingbirds can travel up to 500 miles in a single day.
- Hummingbirds can live up to 12 years, though most live only 3 to 5 years.