I am on a mission: to photograph hummingbirds.

Every summer, I try my hand at it, with mixed (mostly blurry) results.  Those critters are FAST!  But I make the attempt, just the same.  Here are some of my best pics so far (only from the last two summers; the earlier ones weren’t worth putting up, LOL):

2011:

This year (so far):

Yeah, I know – don’t quit my day job, right?

I’ve always been fascinated by hummingbirds.  I saw my first one when I was a kid, at the Philadelphia Zoo’s aviary.  It perched on a branch right over my shoulder, and blinked his tiny, beady black eyes.  He was small, fast, and fearless, and pooped on me before taking off.  I was in love.

For those of us living east of the Rockies, we have only one species of hummer to lure to our feeders: the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird.  (You California folks are sooo lucky).  But hey, we’ll take it!

Feeding hummingbirds:

It such fun to coax these “flying jewels” to visit your garden.  No matter how many times I see them up-close, I have to stop whatever I’m doing when one comes by, and watch.  (My writing gets interrupted a lot).

Interested in trying it yourself?  All you’ll need is a hummingbird feeder (pick one with a built in ant-moat; you’ll be glad you did) and sugar-water.  The fancy food mixes aren’t necessary: a quarter-cup of plain white table sugar, dissolved in 8 ounces of boiling water, will do the trick.  Let it cool before using it, and store any leftovers in the fridge.

Change the water frequently, and keep the feeder clean.  If it gets moldy, the hummers will stay away.  Never use honey as a sweetener; it ferments quickly in the heat, and can kill the bird.  Same with molasses, agave nectar, and corn syrup.  Stick with sugar.

Of course, sometimes patience is required to wheedle a hummer into finding, much less visiting, your feeder (to which my dad can attest – it’s been a long-running joke in our family).  It helps to position their favorite flowers near the feeder, especially red or purple ones:  petunia, fuschia, salvia, and cardinal climber, to name a few.  Once they’ve found your feeder, they’ll be very territorial, and chase each other away (the females are especially ferocious in this regard).  The aerobatic displays are fun to watch, as are the male courtship aerial displays.

Cool facts about hummingbirds:

photo by D. Eickhoff, via Creative Commons

1.  Hummingbirds are only found in the Western Hemisphere.  There are 350 species of hummingbirds, about 15 of which breed in the United States.

2.  Hummers are the only birds who can fly backwards and upside down.  Their wings beat an average of 60 times per second.  By contrast, hummers can’t walk; their feet are little stubs, only good for perching.  When a female sitting on a nest wants to change position, she briefly hovers up in the air and comes back down to resettle herself.

3.  25-30% of their muscle weight in is their pectoral (shoulder) muscles.  Pectoral muscle mass in humans is only 5%.

4.  Females do all the nest building and are the sole caregiver of their young.  She produces a clutch of two eggs, each the size of a jelly bean.  The average lifespan of a hummingbird is 3 to 5 years, although many die in their first year.

5.  Hummers have a rapid metabolism.  Their hearts can beat up to 1,200 times per minute when active, and 250  times per minute at rest.  No wonder they have to consume half their body weight in nectar/sugar water each day!  When they are fattening up for migration, they can consume as much as eight times their body weight per day.

6.  The Ruby-Throated Hummingbird makes a twice-a-year migration between Mexico (its winter home) and the United States (its breeding area), which involves a 500-mile non-stop flight across the Gulf of Mexico.  The duration of that flight has been estimated at 20 hours.

Aren’t they amazing?

Sites for more info:

About.com – hummingbirds

World of Hummingbirds

 

My other hummer-related “some day” goals:

1. Hand-feed a hummer

2. Discover a hummingbird nest

photo by Steve Berardi, via Creative Commons

Here’s a sweet video of a guy who rescued a baby hummingbird after she was attacked.  He fed her, helped with flying “practice,” and got her ready to go back into the wild (his comments about what he did and how she’s doing follow the video):

Have you lured hummingbirds to your garden?  Do you like to feed birds generally?  I’d love to hear from you!

Until next time,

Kathy

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