We've been enjoying the antics of our hummingbirds the past couple of weeks, as they zoom past us on the patio and swoop and chatter at each other, claiming and bravely defending their "territory" around the feeder. As summer fades into fall, it's time for them to prepare for their long journey south for the winter.
I've been fascinated by them and took my camera out on the porch one afternoon, hoping to get some closeup pictures at the feeder nearby.
As I watched, I noticed one little fellow in particular that kept chasing the other hummers away and all of the pictures I took were of him. He was ferocious to be so tiny, and seemed to have a little smirk on his face as he "posed" for the camera (don't you just love those tiny little feet!).
I have always loved hummingbirds, but didn't really know much about them until I did some research before I wrote this post (see sources below).
The most amazing fact I learned was that hummingbirds are very intelligent, and are able to remember places and individual people from one year to the next. I love to think that my little friend in the pictures will be back to see us again next year.
Here are some more interesting things I discovered about them ...
For a hummer that hatched during the summer, there's no memory of past migrations, only an urge to put on a lot of weight and fly in a particular direction for a certain amount of time, then look for a good place to spend the winter. Once it learns such a route, a bird may retrace it every year as long as it lives (just think about the "awesomeness" of that!).
The initial urge is triggered by the shortening length of sunlight as autumn approaches, and has nothing to do with temperature or the availability of food; in fact, hummingbirds migrate south at the time of greatest food abundance.
When the bird is fat enough, it migrates (most hummingbirds of the United States and Canada migrate south in fall to spend the winter in Mexico or Central America).
It's not necessary to take down feeders to force hummingbirds to leave, and in the fall all the birds at your feeder are already migrating anyway. Hummers can remember food sources from previous years, and if you remove your feeder, birds will just feed elsewhere, but may not bother to return to your yard the next year.
Hummingbird expert Lanny Chambers recommends continuing to maintain feeders until freezing becomes a problem.
Hummingbirds can fly right, left, up, down, backwards, and even upside down.
They do not spend all day flying, as the energy expended would be prohibitive; the majority of their activity consists simply of sitting or perching.
Hummingbirds feed in many small meals, consuming up to five times their own body weight in nectar each day. To do so, they must visit hundreds of flowers daily.
At any given moment, they are only hours away from starving. They spend an average of 10-15 percent of their time feeding and 75-80 percent sitting and digesting.
Hummingbird bills are long and tapered, perfectly suited for probing into the center of tubular flowers and feeders for the nectar, which they take up at the rate of about 13 licks a second. Often one can see long translucent tongues spilling out of their long beaks, licking the air, as they approach bright colored flowers.
I was so excited to get this picture of my little friend with his tongue out ...
Hummingbirds need our help this time of year to provide a reliable source of nectar when flower blossoms are less abundant. Let's don't forget to keep fresh sugar water in our feeders and keep them clean. Only white granulated sugar is proven safe to use in hummingbird feeders. A ratio of one cup sugar to four cups water is a common recipe. Boiling and then cooling this mixture before use is recommended to help deter the growth of bacteria.
It's kind of sad to see our hummers getting ready to leave, but hopefully they will find their way back to us next spring. I'd like to think so, anyway.