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Goodbye, Hummers!Posted Thursday, September 25, 2008, at 8:23 PM
This was the view from my living room window all summer, as hoardes of swarming hummers circled my feeders. How much longer will they be here??
Ordinarily, there are dozens out there, grabbing a bite to eat before dark. How long do they stay in the evening? Good question. I guess I haven't noticed. Has anyone else?
As I understand it, this part of the country is home to the ruby-throated hummer, and almost all of the ones we see are either the males, with their bright red markings, or the rather plain females and immature birds (which both look much alike). In times of droughts and fires in the west, we see more of the exotic birds, like the Rufus.
The Rufous Hummingbird has the longest migration of any hummingbird, more than 5,000 miles a year. It flies from central Mexico to Alaska and back again. Hummingbirds migrate, not in flocks, but each one entirely alone. Males leave first followed by females several weeks later. On the south-bound journey the young leave last, flying alone on their first migration with no adult to guide them.
The Ruby-throated hummingbird, which migrates to Mexico, tackles the sea crossing directly with a cruising speed of about 27 miles an hour. If conditions are favorable, it can make the transit, non-stop, in around 18 hours. But the passage is a formidable one and it taxes the hummingbird to the limit of its endurance. A head wind, even a mild one, may hamper it so severely that it will never reach the far shore and perish at sea.
Contrary to some urban myths, hummingbirds do NOT hitch a ride on the backs of geese.
Hummingbirds are found, by species, in the following countries: 162 species in Ecuador, 135 in Columbia, 100 in Peru, 97 in Venezuela, 90 in Brazil, 54 in Costa Rica, 51 in Mexico, 19 in the Caribbean, 16 in the United States, 4 in Canada, 7 in Chile, 4 in Uruguay , and 1 in Tierra del Fuego.
In collecting this information, I found a rather perplexing advertisement of a hummingbird drinking from an Ocean Spray bottle, inverted and set up like a feeder. I hope this is just an advertisement for effect, because real cranberry juice would be very bad for hummers. Feeding hummingbirds juice or honey can cause problems with fungus, and feeding anything low in calories will prevent the little bird from maintaining its energy. The proper solution to feed a hummingbird is "sugar water" with no color added: 1 part granulated sugar to 4 parts water. I heat the solution on the stove until it's completely dissolved - Then I let it cool before I put it in the feeders. If I have leftover nectar, I save it in the frig.
Hummingbirds do eat insects, like flies, ants, small beetles, tiny wasps and other small insects. They need the insects for protein and nectar for energy. Like most birds, they regugitate food for their babies. One of my sources suggested that we set out fruit to rot near our feeders, so as to attract fruit flies for the hummers to eat! I don't believe I care to do that, but I'm sure that the little birds can find enough gnats out here, without my help!
Though they're the tiniest of birds, they have the largest brain, relative to size, of all birds. The brain is 4.2% of total body weight. Hummingbirds have proportionally the largest hearts of any living animal. 1.75% to 2.5% of body weight. Resting heartbeat is 480 beats per minute and can go as high as 1,260 per second when excited. Resting hummingbirds breathe 250 times a minute.
Other interesting hummingbird facts:
* A nest is always tidy; nestlings will do acrobatics to toilet train over the side. (How do they know to do that??) 8-12 days after hatching, the babies can maintain their own body temperature. They will fledge at about 21 days.
* Baby hummers hatch in about 15 to 22 days, a relatively long time compared to other birds. After the embryo has consumed all the food in the egg, it hatches with the help of an egg tooth and a big hatching muscle on the back of its head. Once hatched, the bird loses these features. Any broken shells are disposed of by the mother. The stouthearted moms fearlessly protect their nests.
* Hummers live 5-10 years in the wild.
* Hummingbirds eat ½ their weight each day and drink 8 times their weight in water. A hovering 3-4oz bird uses 35 calories per minute.
* Studies of fledgling success, from hatching to full feathering, ranged from 17% to 59% of the number of eggs laid. Predation accounts for most of the nest mortality. Hummingbird mothers fearlessly attack hawks, crows, jays, chipmunks, snakes and even yellow jackets in defense of the eggs and young, but not always sucessfully. Accidents, high winds, cold, heavy rains, and heat, account for the remainder of fledgling deaths.
* Predators are hawks, kestrels, large frogs, large fishes, tropical spiders, cats, and even praying mantises. Hazards include spider webs, windows, bad sugar mix, storms, weather affecting flower growth.
* It is a myth that leaving their feeder up too long will deter migration. (TRUTH): Migration is triggered by the Hummer's internal clock and the amount of sunshine (length of day).
There's a lot more out there on the web about these remarkable little winged marvels, but all this talk about flying to Mexico is making me incredibly tired, and for some reason, I am craving a cup of hot, black coffee! Maybe the talk of flying over South America is making me want a dark Columbian brew! Ahhhhhhhhhhh!!!
From the dark, cool hills of downtown Tillman, this is your rural goat-less herder, signing off.......
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Madeline (Giles) DeJournett is the Advance writer for the North Stoddard Countian. A retired high school English/history teacher, she spent 32 years teaching in 5 schools in Missouri and Alaska. These days, she lives quietly with a menagerie of wild and domestic animals on 52 secluded acres in the remote Tillman hills south of Advance. She graduated from Dexter High School in 1960 and Southeast Missouri State in 1964. She can be contacted at email@example.com.