Daily Archives: July 31, 2008

Ruby-throated Hummingbird Moves into the Neighborhood

This male ruby-throated hummingbird darted in to have a sip at our feeder.

This male ruby-throated hummingbird darted in to have a sip at our feeder.

Sometimes, the littlest things can get me excited — like spotting a hummingbird at our feeder.  And they truly are little, as well as elusive. They barely weigh more than two ounces at the most and are about three to four inches long.

In May, we take down the seed bird feeder and put up a hummingbird feeder. Actually, my husband does all of the work, but I’m an enthusiastic observer.  The feeder is outside of our breakfast nook, which is at tree level, so we have a good view.

We spotted a hummingbird a few times at first, and then the feeder sat full and unvisited, it seems, for all of June and most of July.

A male ruby-throated hummingbird at our feeder.

A male ruby-throated hummingbird at our feeder.

After an autumn, winter and spring of lively activity by the seed eaters, who mobbed the feeder and fought one another for perches, it got awfully boring waiting at the window, staring at the red liquid that never seemed to drop. Occasionally a wasp would land for a sip. Ok, maybe I didn’t watch that much, but I did glance up from my newspaper every now and then.

Our conversation was sparkling each day.  “Has the level gone down at all?”

“I don’t think so.”

Dutifully, my husband changed the untouched nectar every week.

Then one day, my husband called out, “Hummingbird.”

I looked up.  Nothing.

“You missed it,” he said.  

This happened several times in a week.  I never saw anything.  I was beginning to think he was hallucinating.  It couldn’t just be my bad vision.  

Finally, just this week, a male hummingbird appeared. This time, when my husband said, “Hummingbird,” I actually saw one hovering at the feeder.  He said that he’d seen a female earlier.  Females are slightly larger, more brown-looking and have a whitish throat and a longer beak.

The next few days, I stood at the window off and on with my camera at the ready. That’s why I’ve included so many photographs.  I’ve got to make my vigil pay off in some small way.

A rare moment of stillness at the feeder.

A rare moment of stillness at the feeder.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are the only hummingbirds that breed in the eastern half of the United States.  They range as far north as Central Alberta over to Nova Scotia.  They are territorial and very feisty, particularly in late summer and early fall when they are fattening up for their long nonstop flight in September across the Gulf of Mexico to their winter quarters in southern Mexico and Central America.  They are solitary birds and don’t pair up the way cardinals do. After courtship and mating, the female hummingbird is left to do the child-rearing herself, including nest building.  She will repair an old nest.

A description of the nest sounds like something from a fairy story.  The female chooses a small tree branch where she builds a nest of thistle and dandelion down, held together with spider web and covered in lichen. She lays two eggs smaller than jellybeans.

Another view of our elusive ruby-throated hummingbird.

Another view of our elusive ruby-throated hummingbird.

At our previous house, about five miles north and also in a wooded area, we had several hummingbirds descend upon our feeders in late summer. They fought, divebombing and squeaking at each other.  When that happens, put up two feeders that are not within sight of each other, if you want to keep the peace.

The male has an iridescent red throat and is smaller than the female. The birds can beat their wings 55 times per second when hovering and even faster when moving backwards and forwards.  Nectar from flowers is its main food, but hummingbirds also will catch insects on the wing and snatch spiders from their webs.

 For more information on ruby-throated hummingbirds, go to www.wikipedia.org or to this site at Cornell University.



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