There are 320 species of hummingbirds found in North, Central and South America. Hummingbirds are not found on any other continent. There are 14 species that nest and breed in North America and another eight species that are occasional visitors. The vast majority live in the tropical areas of South America.The largest hummingbirds in North America are the Blue-throated and Magnificent at about 5 inches in length, and the smallest are the Costa's and Calliope at about 3 inches. On average, they weigh about as much as a penny.Besides nectar (for energy), they eat insects and insect eggs (especially from spiders) for protein. Hummingbirds use their bill, not their tongue, to catch the insects.They build their nests primarily from spider webs due to their elasticity. That allows room in the nest for the babies to grow. A hummingbird's nest is about the size of a golf ball and is about 1.5 inches in diameter.Hummingbirds do not have an innate preference for the color red. Rather, they learn to associate flower colors, such as red (which is the most popular), purple and orange with nectar-producing flowers.Hummingbirds will bathe in shallow water sources and enjoy sprinklers and misters. They also leaf-bathe by fluttering against wet leaves.The flight of a hummingbird is quite intriguing. They can fly up to 60 miles an hour, but typically fly at 30-45 miles per hour. Unlike any other bird, they can easily hover for drinking nectar, and are able to fly backwards and upside-down. Their wings beat 20-80 times per second producing a quiet humming sound.The iridescence in their feathers has led them to be called "jewels." These beautiful birds are certainly treasured by all who see them.
People are constantly asking when the hummingbirds will return. For the lower valley areas (where it is warmer), I suggest that hummingbird feeders be put out around tax day (April 15). Some years that is pretty close to their return, other years that time frame might be a little early. Either way, it is easy to remember.
We recommend the nectar you make for hummingbirds be a ratio of 4:1 (4 parts water to 1 part granulated table sugar (sucrose). If you boil the mixture or at least heat it up well, the sugar will dissolve well, and you will remove all of the impurities in the blend. Do not add red food coloring to the sugar water as there is concern over possible health effects of dyes and other additives. Also, do not use sugar alternatives such as honey, artificial sweeteners, raw sugar, organic sugar, brown sugar, or agave nectar. These alternatives contain ingredients that may be directly harmful or could build-up with regular feeding and become harmful. A large batch of nectar can be made and the excess stored in the refrigerator.The nectar should be replaced in the feeders at least weekly and more often during the heat of the summer. If left in the sun too long, the sugar-water nectar will begin to ferment and the birds will not drink it. So if the hummingbirds are coming to your feeder but not drinking, that may be the case.Local bird expert Larry Collins owns Wild Birds Unlimited, 2454 Hwy. 6&50, which caters to folks who want the best backyard birdfeeding experience possible. Email your birdfeeding and birding questions to email@example.com and he'll answer them in his bi-weekly Q&A column in the Free Press.