If there is one bird that excites almost everyone who sees it, it’s the hummingbird. People young and old are spellbound when one zips past or stops at a feeder.
When I was living on the east coast, there was only one type of hummingbird that could be seen and that was the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. When the sun hit it just right, the ruby neck of the male would shine like a single point of red light sparkling among the darker leaves and foliage in the woods. To get a photograph of this little bird, especially when it was perched on a tree branch, was always exciting.
As always, I like to learn about the birds that I photograph and here are some of the facts that I found most interesting while doing my reading.
- The Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the only hummingbird that breeds in the Eastern United States
- Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are solitary. Adults of this species are not social, other than during courtship (which lasts a few minutes). Males depart immediately after the reproductive act and females providing all parental care.
- Like many birds, hummingbirds have good color vision and can see into the ultraviolet spectrum, which humans can’t see.
- Hummingbirds have one of the highest metabolic rates of any animal, with heart rates up to 1260 beats per minute, breathing rate of about 250 breaths per minute even at rest.
- The extremely short legs of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird prevent it from walking or hopping. The best it can do is shuffle along a perch.
- A variety of animals prey on Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. Due to their small size, hummingbirds are vulnerable even to passerine birds and other animals which generally feed on insects. On the other hand, only very swift predators can capture them and a free-flying adult hummingbird is too nimble for most predators.
- Nectar from flowers and flowering trees, as well as small insects and spiders, are the Ruby-throated Hummingbird’s main food. Although hummingbirds are well known to feed on nectar, small arthropods are an important source of protein, minerals, and vitamins in the diet of adult hummingbirds.
- The Ruby-throated Hummingbird’s nest is composed of bud scales, with lichen on the exterior, bound with spider’s silk, and lined with fibers such as plant down (often dandelion or thistle down) and animal hair.
- The Ruby-throated Hummingbird female lays eggs about the size of peas.
- Young Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are fed insects for protein since nectar is an insufficient source of protein for the growing birds.
- The female Ruby-throated Hummingbird feeds the chicks from 1 to 3 times every hour by regurgitation, usually while the female continues to hover.
- When they are 18 to 22 days old, the young Ruby-throated Hummingbirds leave the nest and make their first flight.
- The Ruby-throated hummingbird is migratory, generally spending its winters in Central America or Mexico and migrating to Eastern North America for the summer to breed
- This feat of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird’s migration is impressive as some birds embark on a nonstop 900 mile journey across the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean. The non-stop flight over water would seemingly require a caloric energy that far exceeds an adult hummingbird’s body weight. However, researchers discovered the tiny birds can double their fat mass by approximately one gram in preparation for their Gulf crossing, and then expend the entire calorie reserve from the fat during the 20 hour non-stop crossing when food and water are unavailable.
- When Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are migrating, they usually do not stay very high off the ground. They have been reported to fly just above treetop level over land or pretty much skimming the top of the water ways. It is believed they do this to keep an eye out for a food or nectar opportunities on their long journey.
- The oldest known Ruby-throated Hummingbird to be banded was 9 years and 1 month of age. Almost all hummingbirds of 7 years or more in age are females, with males rarely surviving past 5 years of age. Reasons for higher mortality in males may include loss of weight during the breeding season due to the high energetic demands of defending a territory followed by energetically costly migration.
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