Humming along

Aug 2, 2016 by Mike Bibb

By now, I’m certain regular readers of the Rocky Point Times have grown accustomed to my frequent submissions of birds and animals stories. It’s a convenience thing; living in the desert affords a better opportunity to view and photograph these creatures. Besides, it isn’t very often I come across a dolphin meandering up the Gila River – even when the river actually has water in it.

Similar to my article on the Giant Yellow Swallowtail butterfly (May RPT), Spring flowers also herald the return of wildlife dependent upon Mother Nature’s ancient migration cycles. To everything there is a season, to borrow a familiar Biblical phrase, and the arrival of the little humming bird reflects testimony to this sagacious advice.

Resembling miniaturized fighter jets of the avian family, their aerial skills are not only remarkable for speed and agility, but they also possess a friendly temperament to interact with humans. While not necessarily trainable to spoken commands, nevertheless they will gladly entertain for long periods of time – as long as a food source is available.

Since these little guys are nearly constantly on the go, their high energy levels must be continually sustained by consuming nearly half their body weight in nectar and small insects daily. Consequently, flower beds and liquid feeders are favorite hangouts, and they will incessantly buzz around many blooming bushes, shrubs and other nectar producing plants.

As mentioned, hummingbirds are incredible flying machines. They can instantly dart up, down, forward, backwards, sideways and even hover in midair. Reaching speeds of 60 miles per hour, hummers are capable of covering vast distances in a relatively short period of time. When migrating, they often travel hundreds and thousands of miles. The Ruby-throated Hummingbird can fly over 600 miles across the Gulf of Mexico – nonstop.

There are approximately 16 species of hummingbirds in the United States and Canada. I’m not certain of the type perching in my Red (Mexican) Bird of Paradise bush in the picture, as there seems to be two or three differently colored varieties cruising the neighborhood, often at the same time.

It’s my understanding hummingbirds are the smallest member of the bird family. Their eggs are about the size of a single green pea and incubation take place in nests not much larger than a two ounce paper cup.

Because they spend so much time in flight they have poorly developed feet, making them almost incapable of walking and certainly not designed to clutch objects or prey. However, they can perch for brief periods while snacking at backyard feeders or resting temporarily on small branches.

Not classified as a songbird, instead, hummingbirds produce short distinct shrills and chirps to attract a mate or warn an approaching antagonist. The distinct whirring sound of their wings and the reflective iridescent colored feathers is also another method a male uses to lure a girl friend or threaten territory intruders. Of course, only being about three inches tall, speed is often more beneficial than machismo.

Briefly, hummingbirds:

* Can perch

* Have weak feet

* Consume about half their body weight daily

* Capable of flying multiple directions, including hovering

* Certain species migrate hundreds and thousands of miles

* Have an excessively high metabolic rate

* Beat their wings from 70 to 200 times per second

* Fly at speeds up to 60 miles per hour

* Live, on average, 5-6 years

There’s much more information available on this fascinating creature, but due to space limitations I’ve only touched upon some of the highlights of the tiny bird’s life and activities. A quick google search will reveal dozens of articles, facts, figures and scientific accountings of the hyper-energetic hummingbird.

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Tiny hummingbird perched within a Red (Mexican) Bird of Paradise bush.

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