At this time of year in Marion, there is a glorious bright spot which I look forward to with great excitement and anticipation: the return of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird! It seems especially poignant and uplifting this year.
These fascinating “fairy” birds travel thousands of miles every year to return to their birth nesting origins. Some estimate that only 30 percent will survive the grueling journey. They generally spend the winter in Central America, Mexico, and Florida, before migrating to Eastern North America to breed in the summer. They double their weight prior to embarking on this arduous marathon flight over the Gulf of Mexico, which offers no landing in sight! I often think of what these little lives have had to endure to arrive back here at my feeders; storms, predators, lack of food sources, and all that mother nature can throw at them. In some way, they seem to help put our current circumstances into perspective.
I can’t remember exactly when I became enthralled by these miracles of nature, but it has been several years of utter infatuation for me. It began with one feeder and a handful of hummingbirds, but when the fighting over the feeder started, I put up a second feeder and then a third. Currently, I have a total of six feeders, and I estimate between 30–50 hummingbirds who have made our property their home. Guests have witnessed the incredible activity of my birds with awe and amazement as they zip and buzz over our heads from nest to feeders incessantly.
Filling six feeders and keeping them clean is a full-time summer job! Every day, I refresh the formula, which consists of one cup of sugar to four cups of water, lightly heated over the stove until the crystals are dissolved. It’s also necessary to regularly run the feeders through the dishwasher to reduce bacteria and keep hummingbirds healthy. As the weather warms up, the feeders have to be refreshed and cleaned at least every other day. It is a labor of love that I anticipate every spring and mourn with their departure in the fall.
A few fun facts about these little marvels:
Average length: 3.5 inches
Average weight: 1/8 ounce
Body temperature: 105-108 degrees (F)
Wing beats: 40-80 per second, with an average about 52
Respiration: 250 per minute
Heart rate: 250 beats/minute resting; 1200 beats/min feeding
Flight speed: 30 mph normal; 50 mph escape; 63 mph dive
Hummingbirds are the only birds that can fly backward.
Females typically lay two eggs that are the size of a Tic Tac! Hummingbird eggs are among the smallest eggs of any bird species. The Bee Hummingbird is the smallest hummingbird and often mistaken for a bee due to its minute size.
The biggest threat to hummingbirds are humans, who when landscaping often cut branches that hold their tiny camouflaged nests. If this ever happens to you or you find a hummingbird nest on the ground, try to put it back as close to its original location as possible, as the mother will search for days for a missing nest. If you can ask landscapers to prune limbs in late fall after the hummingbirds have migrated, it may save these little lives.
So, while confined and quarantined, shrouded with an onslaught of depressing news and negativity, I am uplifted with great anticipation and excitement, tracking the migration for the arrival of my precious, darling fairies! If you keep an eye out, you just might see some, too!
By Elizabeth Hatch