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Surfari: Hummingbirds

By Rogi Riverstone
(May 24, 2001)

Seventeen species of hummingbirds come to North America every year to have their babies. Some come all the way from South America. Here's how to "Unpave the way for hummingbirds." When it gets too cold up here, they fly back down south. That is, except for the winter hummingbirds of southwest Louisiana.

Imagine: those tiny birds, flying thousands of miles, twice a year! Some fly directly over the Gulf of Mexico: hundreds of miles without food, fresh water or a place to rest. Anybody who thinks hummingbirds are just pretty little creatures doesn't understand true power and strength. does, though.

Amazing Hummingbird Facts

oh, no; I feel Trivia coming!

Hummingbird nests average about 1-1/2 inches in outside diameter. A penny will almost fill the inside diameter; a quarter will fill it completely.

Hummingbird eggs are so small that a penny would completely cover three of them. The usual brood, however, is two eggs.

It takes hummingbird eggs two to 2 1/2 weeks to hatch.

Hatchlings remain in the nest, well hidden, for about three weeks.

Most hummers produce one brood per season.

Hummers typically live five years.

Hummers usually feed every ten minutes throughout the day.

A hummingbird's heart beats 1,260 beats per minute during the day and slows to 50 beats per minute during the night. [Author's Note: I want to know who counted!]

Normal flight speed for a hummingbird is 25 to 30 mph, but hummers can dive at speeds of up to 60 mph.

Frequency of hummingbird wing beats (how many times they flap their wings in a period of time) ranges from 20-80 beats per second, although some have been clocked at 200 beats per second!

Like me (j/k), hummingbirds can consume half their weight in sugar, every day. They have a very high metabolism, because they fly all the time. They use their feet for perching, almost exclusively. They can barely walk. They eat by probing a flower or feeder with their long tongues, lapping nectar and swallowing. Here's more on how hummingbirds eat.

Feeding hummers is really simple. has some tips for attracting and feeding hummingbirds. I always grow trumpet-shaped flowers in my garden, especially in shades of red.

My mother wore bandanas while gardening, to protect her hair from wind and dirt. One day, she was pulling weeds out of the roses. She heard a buzzing coming from behind her and felt air moving on her neck.

She was scared witless, wondering what kind of huge insect was about to sting her. She didn't move. She squeezed her eyes shut.

The buzzing sound moved toward her face. The air was moving on her cheeks. She peeked out of one eye.

Inches from her nose, a hummingbird examined her red bandana, looking for nectar. She couldn't stifle a little chuckle. The hummer darted away.

Here's a site devoted to helping people plan gardens for nectar feeders, such as butterflies and hummers. Red is their favorite color that humans can see, but they're drawn to ultra violet, as well. I also make hummingbird water: approximately one part sugar to three or four parts very clean, boiled (to kill as many germs as possible) water and dissolved thoroughly. I never use honey; it spoils too fast.

Once, I was sitting in the yard with a glass of lemon soda. The glass had red flowers around the rim. A hummer swooped down, hovered near the glass, moved in and started drinking!

I never put food coloring in the mixture; it probably isn't beneficial to hummers' diets. It also disguises any fungus, algae or other nasty stuff that might be growing in the feeder. I make the feeder red, not the food.

The feeder should be out of direct sunlight, to keep the food cool and to prevent the growth of nasty stuff. I just put in half a cup of food at a time. The feeder needs to be cleaned often, so any more food would just be a waste. It depends, though. Some people get whole squadrons of hummer visitors, and need to put out a lot more food in a lot more feeders (so they won't fight so much over territory).

And they will fight. The yard fills with high-pitched chattering. Suddenly, whirring birds zoom and swoop.

One day, my dad was out in the yard during a hummingbird fight. The bird being chased must have been looking over its shoulder at its pursuer. All of a sudden, "thwack," the fleeing bird flew directly into our eight-foot tall, redwood fence. It fell, motionless, to the ground.

My dad went over to it and picked it up. Dad had emphysema (so you know he couldn't walk fast, and that bird lay there for awhile) and Dad wore an oxygen canula (tube with holes for the nostrils). He took it off, plugged one of the holes and put the other hole by the bird's nostrils.

He stroked its tummy gently with a finger. He checked its legs and wings for broken bones.

Suddenly, the hummingbird opened its eyes and shook its head. It rolled over onto its feet and perched on his fingertip. It cocked its eye and looked directly in dad's eyes. It fluffed its feathers, waggled its tail, flapped its wings a few times.

It flew off of his hand and hovered, directly in front of his face, for a moment, studying him. It made a right-angled turn and zipped away.

Dad stood, staring at the empty spot in the air in front of him where the hummer had been an instant before. He tried to grasp all of it. The tiny creature, how strong it was, how delicate it was. The minute feet, eyes, feathers. The powerful sound of the wings beating. How it weighed nothing in his hand.

He talked about that hummer until he died. It always amazed him.

How to care for an injured hummingbird.

A lot of folks hang feeders in their yards for the hummers. You can buy them at places like Hummingbirds Forever or You can also just get an idea from feeders for sale, and make your own.

I make my own. I take a 20 oz. or smaller plastic soda bottle and peel off the label. With a soldering iron or a heated ice pick, I melt a round hole in the cap, just big enough to thread a 3-inch length of plastic tubing through. I use tubing for swamp cooling air conditioners, but aquarium tubing or even very thick drinking straws will do. I seal the area with non-toxic, calking silicone and let it dry.

Once it's dry and water tight, I put some food in it. I cut a length of nylon pot scrubber or skin scrubber. I lash one end of the scrubber around the neck of the bottle and hang it all upside down from the other end of the scrubber. I tie an artificial flower onto the bottle cap, or any piece of red plastic.

Then, I just wait. In a couple of minutes or a couple of days, I hear hummers chattering, invisible, in the trees and bushes nearby. Soon, I'll hear the buzz of hummer wings as they hover around, find the end of the tube and begin to drink.

You need to know when hummingbirds arrive in your area. It always depends on how close one lives to the Mexican border. Hummers make summer homes in just about every North American climate: desert to woodlands, beaches to mountains. As long as they can find fresh water, food and a sheltered spot for a nest, they'll settle in.

Hummingbird wav file from Bird Song Display List: wav files.

Images by "Granny."

Photos of hummingbird nest and juvenile Anna's Hummingbird in the nest were taken in March, 2001 in southern CA by RainSong.

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