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It’s In Your Nature: Sit back and enjoy the ‘ruby throat’

Living east of the Mississippi River we have one summer resident hummingbird, the ruby-throated hummingbird. Adult males have “ruby” colored neck feathers, but depending on the light hitting those feathers, that color varies. But to be sure, if you have “hummers” visiting your flower beds or feeders it will be this species.

Birding buddy Dave and I through the “birding networks,” have seen two other species in the East. One was an Anna’s hummingbird still visiting a Berks County feeder through early February. The owner kept a heat lamp on the feeder to keep the fluid from freezing. The other was a rufous hummingbird in Ashfield in mid-October - a Pacific Northwest species. These sightings are anomalies.

The Times News region is rather fortunate by having a wetter climate and that offers some lush forests and woodlots. That in turn supports a variety of songbirds from vireos, thrushes, and a good number of warbler species. If you head to the Western U.S. though, know you’ll find very few warblers, a few vireos, but 8 to 10 different species of “hummers.” One species actually thrives in Alaska. Surprisingly, the desert southwest hosts many of them.

The smallest hummingbird in North America is the calliope hummingbird, about a half inch smaller than our “ruby throat.” The smallest hummingbird species in the world is the bee hummingbird found in Cuba. It reaches 2¼ inches in size.

Let’s review a few astonishing details about hummingbirds. Obviously, they are tiny, but amazingly adaptable. Those early spring arriving males sometimes find themselves with night temperatures below freezing. They have adapted to go into a temporary torpor - like an overnight hibernation - where they slow their metabolism. Their tongue is nearly twice as long as their beak. Their flight endurance too is amazing. Studies have shown that some “hummers” fly 1,000 miles without stopping on their migrations.

Their flying abilities are just unbelievable. They can hover, stop on a dime, fly forward, backward, and sideways. Their wings can beat at 1,200 times a minute. If you have hummingbirds in your backyard, and it is quiet, you can hear the humming of the wings. I have been weeding my garden and feet above me a “hummer” is buzzing as he/she feeds on my glads. Those small but mighty wings take them to wintering areas in Mexico, Central America, and a few remain in extreme southern Florida.

They normally have one brood each summer and occasionally two. They place their tiny nest atop a horizontal limb, not in a fork like many other birds. If looking for a nest from below, the branch would probably obscure your view. They piece together thistle and dandelion down and tie it all together with spider webs they’ve collected. To camouflage the nest, they stick bits of lichens on the outside.

I’ve tried for years to follow a hummingbird’s flight to see if I could find their nest, but the little “buggers” just buzz away too quickly. I’ve included two pictures of a hummingbird nest that a sharp-eyed reader found a few years ago. Thanks to Sherry Ferguson for sending me those pictures.

You still have a great part of the summer to watch “ruby throats” and maybe next year your garden will have some more flowers to attract and feed them. They are unique birds.

Test Your Outdoor Knowledge: True/False: Ruby throated hummingbirds live entirely on a diet of flower nectar.

Last Week’s Trivia Answer: Yellowstone National Park is huge encompassing over 3,400 square miles - the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined.

Email Barry Reed at breed71@gmail.com

A typical lichen covered nest holds two ruby-throated hummingbirds a few days from their fledging. BARRY REED PHOTOS
Two baby “ruby throats” only a day or two old, lay in the tiny nest of plant down, fibers and spider webs.
I placed a quarter beside a “used” hummingbird nest so you can judge how small the cup of the nest is holding the young.
The male “ruby throat” has neck feathers that appear black or red depending on the light conditions.
Both a juvenile or female “ruby throat” show a white throat area. We plant many cannas whose tubular flowers bloom from mid-July through mid-September and apparently please the local hummers.