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Flying Colors: Jewels in the Sky

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Flying Colors is a sponsored column on the hobby of backyard bird feeding written by Michael Zuiker, owner of the Wild Birds Unlimited store at the Lee Harrison Shopping Center. Visit the store at 2437 N. Harrison Street or call 703-241-3988.

Hey, what is that twinkling in the sky? It is not a star because it is daylight. It is not a diamond because it is in the air. It is not fairy dust from a fairy’s wand because… well that does not exist!

But that twinkling, sparkling jewel in the sky is a hummingbird. They have migrated up here from the Gulf coast and Central America and are in our yards. hummingbirds are incredible and here is why…

Hummingbirds are found only in the “New” World — North, Central and South America.

There are over 325 species of hummingbirds, making them the second largest bird family in the world. There are 18 hummingbird species in North America. The east coast generally will only see the ruby-throated hummingbird.

Hummingbirds lay the world’s smallest bird egg. They usually lay two eggs in the nest, each the size of a blueberry. A mother hummingbird only weighs about eight times more than her egg.

The ruby-throated hummingbird will have two broods, each taking 45 days from nest construction to fledging.

Even though the ruby-throated hummingbird has one of the highest success rates of any neotropical migrant, only about 20% of the fledging’s survive their first year. That said, the oldest known wild hummingbird on record was a broad-tailed hummingbird that was over 12 years old.

There are over 18 different hummingbird species in North America. Here are some more facts that are incredible to think about:

  1. Their wing beat moves at 20-80 times per second.
  2. They can hover and are the only bird that can fly backwards and upside down.
  3. Hummingbirds can fly up to 60 miles per hour. Their cruising speed is roughly 30-45 miles per hour.
  4. One research study recorded an Anna’s hummingbird visiting over 1000 flower blossoms a day. Right now, most hummingbird gardens are still coming out of the ground and have not yet bloomed with flowers for the birds. This is where hummingbird feeders come in. By mimicking the nectar these birds find in flowers in the feeders, you can provide these very active birds with the fuel they need. This is important because hummingbirds eat about every ten minutes.
  5. Hummingbirds learn to associate flower colors, like red, with food. They do not have an innate preference to red.
  6. Hummingbirds can drink up to twice their body weight every day (most birds only eat ¼-1/2 their body weight).

The ruby-throated hummingbird migrates up here every Spring. It is not the warmth of the day but the length of the day that gets them moving. You can set your calendar to April 1st for the first sightings in this area.

Many of those first birds will stop to refuel and then get going back up north. Many will settle into the lower Canadian provinces.

The ones that stay here will find a mate and build a nest. The nest is the size of a golf ball, an inch and a half in diameter! That is why they are so hard to find in the wild.

The hummingbirds will use spider webs as glue to attach the nests to a tree branch as well as binding agent for the nest building material. After the fledglings have left the nest, you will see more birds in your garden and on your feeders.

Here is the one, most important aspect to attracting the hummingbird to your feeder and keeping them there. When the temperature goes above 80 degrees, you must change the nectar daily.

The sugar water will become very spoiled in the hot summer sun. If the birds find a good source of food that is fresh they will keep coming back. And since they eat almost every 10 minutes, they could come back regularly and stay all day long.

Another great way to get these birds in your yard is to plant a hummingbird garden.

Monarda (Bee Balm), Cardinal Flower and Penstemon are some of the best plants to use to start your garden. The deep throated flowers offer a great source of nectar, which the hummingbirds need.

These perennials which keep expanding each year and bring the hummingbirds to your yard. Add in a couple of nectar feeders to your yard and it will allow you to bring them close to your windows, decks and patios to observe them up close.

I have positioned a chair, five feet from my blooming Monarda plants and filmed the hummingbirds up close. Once they became used to me sitting there, they came regularly to the flowers without any concern.

Now is a great time to plants some flowers in a sunny spot and put up the feeder. The formula for the nectar is 4:1 (water to sugar).

Make a pitcher and keep it in the refrigerator. Refresh the feeder daily and get set to watch the “Jewels in the Sky” entertain you. Fairy dust is overrated! But hummingbirds are awesome.

Stop in our store to see our Hummingbird location map with all of our customers 2018 sightings.

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