Hummingbirds fascinate me. Always have. They are quixotic little jewels that flit from flower to feeder to tree top without seeming to stop. Their colors mesmerize as the reds and greens and blue flash in the sunlight. I started noticing them in the garden, as they hover and circle and zip by looking for the best flowers. When my dad started feeding them, it became a familiar morning ritual to watch them through the window as they seemed to take turns drinking and chasing others away from the feeders. It was then that I started watching for them most everywhere—and often found them not just in gardens, but also outside stores and restaurants, at national and state parks, and out on walks in the neighborhood.
There were several places where I knew I could witness these tiny birds—the smallest in the world—as they went about their business drinking nectar and eating little bugs for protein. On my former college campus, they would routinely sing out their high pitched chi,chi,chi chirp as they swooped down from the pine trees. A friend’s yard was often the home for a tiny grey nondescript hummingbird’s nest, with its two small babies hiding inside, tucked away in the branches of a rose bush. Other friends put out many feeders on the balcony of their Colorado home, and I can spend hours watching the birds threaten each other away from the feeders and practice the big diving swoops of their mating rituals. Once at a zoo’s aviary, one little guy was certain my bright red shirt meant I had nectar hidden somewhere and he persistently buzzed around trying to find it. I could feel the breeze from his flapping wings as he darted around my face. For a short time, he even perched on my shoulder!
With each encounter, they take my breath away. Maybe it is their size, or their ability to hover like little helicopters—even flying backwards and straight up at times. For being so tiny and delicate, they are aggressive and stake out and fiercely protect their territory from any others who want to share their nectar. A great website called The World of Hummingbirds gives extensive information about these wonderful creatures. It suggests that gardeners either hang feeders far enough apart so birds can stake out a territory or clumped together so taking possession becomes impossible. I was glad to read that hummingbirds spend most of their time perching—maybe that is why the only pictures I can ever snap are when they perch vs. when darting about from flower to feeder.
This website gave me some interesting details about these fascinating creatures:
- A hummingbird’s brain is 4.2% of its body weight, the largest proportion in the bird kingdom.
- Hummingbirds can hear better and see farther than humans, but they have no sense of smell.
- A hummingbird’s heart beats up to 1,260 times per minute in motion but only 250 times per minute at rest.
- A hummingbird’s metabolism is roughly 100 times that of an elephant.
- The hummingbird’s body temperature is about 107 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Hummingbirds are on average 8.5 centimeters (roughly 3.3 inches) from beak to the tail.
- A hummingbird can weigh anywhere between 2 and 20 grams, which is less than a penny’s weight (2.5 grams ~ 0.09 ounces).
- Although most hummingbirds die in the first year of life, they have an average life span of about 5 years.
- A hummingbird wings will beat about 70 times per second when flying, but up to 200 times per second when diving. [No wonder my photos of them in flight are always blurry!]
- A hummingbird can fly an average of 25-30 miles per hour but can dive up to 60 miles per hour.
- Although most species of hummingbirds do not migrate, some have been known to travel 500 miles over the Gulf of Mexico to breeding grounds; others will travel up to 2,000 miles twice a year during migration.
- When hummingbirds sleep at night, they go into a hibernation-like state called torpor, which saves up to 60% of the bird’s available energy.
- There are more than 300 species of hummingbirds, and they are only found naturally in the Americas, as far north as Alaska and as far south as Chile.
I wrote this blog entry when I started thinking about hummingbirds the other day after a friend sent me a remarkable video, set in Alaska. You have to see this amazing experience to believe it. I am adding trying to recreate such an experience to my bucket list—I think a trip to Alaska is in order soon!
Enjoy the video:
Wasn’t that great? Watching these little guys in action confirms there are miracles around us everyday, we just need to watch for them! Constance Barrett Sohodski goes a step further explaining what we can learn from these tiny marvels: “Hummingbird teaches us to transcend time, to recognize that what has happened in the past and what might happen in the future is not nearly as important as what we are experiencing now. It teaches us to hover in the moment, to appreciate its sweetness.”
In closing, I will quote Pablo Neruda as he describes these marvelous dynamos of nature in his poem “Ode to the Hummingbird.” Can’t you see them out there in the garden?
From scarlet to powdered gold,
to blazing yellow,
to the rare
to the orange and black velvet
of your shimmering corselet,
out to the tip
an amber thorn
small, superlative being,
you are a miracle,
and you blaze