This time around let’s talk about hummingbirds, a nice spring subject.
There are more than 340 species of these birds found in the Western Hemisphere. Indiana has three hummingbirds that you can see, but only one builds nests here. The three you might see are: ruby-throated, rufous and the black-chinned. The last two are not very common in this area and are most likely to be strays.
Which leaves us the ruby-throated, the one that most of us see as it is the one that nests in this state. The other two are seen when they pass through on their way to their homes.
We start seeing these guys in about April, and they hang around until around the end of September. With its iridescent coloring, it’s pretty hard to miss flitting around in your backyard. As with most birds, the male is the more colorful; the females are a bit larger and not so showy.
These birds winter in Costa Rica, which is about a 4,000-mile flight. They make the flight across the Gulf of Mexico nonstop and lose about half their body weight in doing so. It’s an old wives tale that they migrate on the backs of geese.
Here are some interesting facts about hummingbirds. They have no sense of smell, and their tongue is grooved like a “W.” Their hearts beat about 250 times per minute while at rest, and its heart is 2.5 percent of the total body weight. It also breathes at about the same rate.
The hummingbird’s metabolism is roughly 100 times that of an elephant. They have weak feet and can barely walk. They prefer to fly or perch. In fact, they spend most of their life perching. When it comes to weight, they run between 2 and 20 grams; for comparison, a penny weighs about 2.5 grams. The muscles used for flight make up 30 percent of its weight.
As far as their social life: They do not mate for life. The females build the nest, and the male doesn’t hang around and does not help raise the chicks. The female usually has two and sometimes three broods a year with different males. The average lifespan of a hummingbird is five years, although they can live for up to 10 years.
Their wings will beat about 70 times per second. If they are diving, the rate goes up to 200 beats per second. They can fly both backward and forward, hover, and fly sideways and upside-down. Hummingbirds need to eat about seven times per hour and will eat anywhere from half to eight times its body weight each day. They will visit an average of 1,000 flowers per day for the nectar.
Want some of these hanging around your backyard? Let’s start with feeders. Early spring is the best time to set them up, before the flowers start to bloom. Feeders can provide an equivalent nutrition of 2,000 to 5,000 flowers. They are also important in the fall to help hummingbirds gain weight for the long migration. Make sure the feeder is easy to clean.
Red is the favored color, as it will attract more hummingbirds and fewer insects (the insect guards should be red also).
Try to have multiple feeders so all can have a shot at it, and make sure there is a perching area nearby. The mixture is simple: four parts water to one part sugar; boil for two minutes to slow fermentation (we don’t want drunken hummingbirds flying around).
Hummingbirds also eat insects. An adult female can consume up to 2,000 per day, and this includes mosquitoes, gnats, small bees, spiders, caterpillars and other stuff. Ripe fruit near the feeders attracts insects, which attracts hummingbirds. (See how nature works?)
When thinking about growing plants for the hummingbirds, make sure to have a variety of plants that will bloom at different times. Remember that they prefer red. There are about 150 species of plants that are pollinated by hummingbirds rather than bees.
By now you’re wondering what you can grow to attract these birds. Some of the perennials include: bee-balm, cardinal flower, fire-pink and royal catchfly. The better annuals include snapdragons, Mexican sunflowers and jewelweed. You might grow some trumpet vines or trumpet honeysuckle, and passionflower will work.