Well, here we are again, talking about ruby-throated hummingbirds.
Since submitting last week’s column, I put out one feeder, but no hummers have shown up yet. At least, none that I’ve seen.
I have seen reports of ruby-throats around many parts of Oklahoma, but they are sporadic. By month’s end, there will probably be many visiting your feeders.
Also last week, we pretty well covered the migration. We also covered information concerning feeding nectar to hummingbirds, and mentioned that the ruby-throated hummingbird, and, all hummingbirds, really, are amazing. And here’s why:
• Hummingbirds can fly not only forward, but also backward, side to side, up, down, on their sides, and upside down, and they can even hover in place. Also, they can stop on a dime in mid-air.
• Hummingbirds have the largest brain relative to body size of all birds. Also, they have the largest heart per body size of all animals.
• A hummingbird’s tongue is like a straw, with which they can draw out a lot of nectar. Which is a good thing, because they must consume two times their body weight in nectar each day!
• The ruby-throated hummingbird’s wings beat about 53 times per second. Per second!
• A hummingbird’s heart can beat more than 1,000 times in a single minute. When sleeping. their heart rates are much reduced, to anywhere from 50 to 180 beats per minute.
• At rest, like when perched on a tree branch, a ruby-throat will take three to four breaths per second.
Males and females are sexually dimorphic (visibly different), with males being slightly smaller and having slightly smaller bills.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds are basically emerald and white in color (photos) with the males having the red throat. Actually, the male’s throat feathers aren’t really red. The feathers, which resemble scales, are iridescent, so they appear red in the right light. If you look at a male from the side, or in poor light, sometimes the throat feathers appear matte black.
Males have pointed tail feathers and gray chest feathers.
Females are about 3 inches in length and have whitish throats and white-tipped outer rounded tail feathers -- the outer three feathers on each side of the tail.
Adult males lack the white tips on the tail feathers. However, immature ruby-throats — both male and female — resemble adult females and even have the white-tipped tail feathers. But, immatures often have heavier throat markings than adult females.
Also, some immature males may have one or more iridescent spots on the neck by fall.
Hummingbirds have tiny feet with which to perch, but with which they cannot walk very well at all.
While there are hundreds of hummingbird species from Alaska to Chile, only about 13 reside in the United States. And the ruby-throated hummingbird is the only one that breeds in the eastern United States.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds can be found over the eastern three-quarters of Oklahoma from about early April to October. Their range pretty much runs from central Texas north into Canada and all of the eastern United States.
Ruby-throats will drink nectar from any flower, but they prefer red tubular flowers. They also eat some insects, including mosquitoes, fruit flies, gnats and small bees. Small spiders, too.
When regular food is scarce, they will also consume tree sap.
Last week, I forgot to mention that you don’t have to add red dye to your nectar. Hummingbirds will be attracted to the colors on the feeders themselves.
Besides offering up nectar, residents can attract hummingbirds by planting several varieties of flowering plants.
Area resident Wes Edens has a garden full of flowering plants, including David Verity cigar bushes (cuphea) and acanthus flame hummingbird bushes. He also has scarlet sage, coral sage, lantanas and tithonia (Mexican sunflowers).
Justin McDaniel, with the OSU Extension Office, recommends for planting iris, columbine, rhododendron and evening primrose for early summer bloom.
“Morning glory, fuchsia, geranium, roses, nasturtium, clematis, gladiolus, scarlet runner bean, zinnia, verbena, snapdragon, and hollyhocks bloom mid-summer, with bee balm and phlox coming into flower in August,” McDaniel wrote in a 2018 column. “Check with your local garden center or nursery for other suggestions, as well as for recommendations for disease-resistant varieties as it’s critical that you don’t use pesticides on or near the hummingbirds’ food sources. Not only can sipping nectar from plants that have been sprayed sicken or kill the birds, but it also kills the insects that hummingbirds’ need for protein.”
Also, hummingbirds are attracted to a water source, such as a birdbath. And, moving water is best. Even a drip attracts more birds.
Males typically show up to breeding areas about a week before females. After a quick courtship, males and females mate, and then part ways.
According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, a female will then spend about a week to 10 days constructing the nest. She will lay one to three eggs,
When I was a teen, I was hiking through some woods and climbed an elm tree. While up in the branches, I discovered a ruby-throated hummingbird’s nest. I was shocked at how small it was, only about 2 inches wide.
There were two white eggs in it that were about the size of jelly beans. The nest was incredibly well-camouflaged, covered in lichen, as was the tree branch on which it was attached.
Fearing I may have scared the mother away when I climbed the tree, I only looked at it for a few seconds, then left.
Incubation takes about two weeks. The young are fully grown when they leave the nest about 18 days after hatching. Young are fed regurgitated insects, as nectar lacks the protein needed to grow. They will weigh much more than their mother by the time they fledge. Ruby-throats raise one to three broods during a breeding season.
Also, baby hummingbirds do not visit feeders. Often, people who think they saw a baby hummingbird at flowers or even feeders, may instead have seen a hummingbird moth. Or possibly a sphinx moth. Both visit flowers during the day and their wingbeats are very fast, just like hummingbirds. I will feature those insects in future columns.
Odds and ends
If you’ve ever seen a hummingbird exhibiting strange behavior on cold mornings, those birds may have been in torpor. Torpor is a survival measure, a very deep sleep which reduces the bird’s temperature and slows down the bird’s metabolism, heart rate and breathing. Torpid birds are often found asleep at feeders, and even hanging upside down from feeders and tree branches. So, if you see a hummer hanging upside down at a feeder, rest assured it wasn’t out at the bar all night, just trying to survive the cold.
Randy Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. He has been an avid birdwatcher, nature enthusiast and photographer for 40 years. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.