Cornwall - April 2, 2012 - Ruby-throated hummingbirds return each year in May, most during the second and third weeks. After a long migration northward, the hummingbirds will be happy if nectar filled feeders are awaiting their arrival. The first photograph featured is a beautiful male ruby-throated hummingbird, and at the end of this article is a pictorial.
For many years from May to October, ruby-throated hummingbirds have provided hours of pleasure for this viewer. Putting pen to paper, here are some observations; as well as photographs I have been fortunate to snap.
The ruby-throat's back feathers are iridescent green. The adult males have brilliant iridescent red throat feathers known as gorget that are greatly accentuated when the sun shines brightly or when they get excited. Their tail is forked. The female has a whitish coloured throat and breast; and the tips of the tail are white.
The bill, which is used to drink nectar, is reminiscent of a long needle. Hummingbirds feed approximately every ten minutes. They seem to be attracted to the nectar of red flowers, and they often sip raindrops and early morning dew hanging from the branches of evergreen trees. They have been observed eating small insects and spiders as well.
Their wing motion is extremely rapid, and they can fly forward, backward, and hover in one place easily. Being a curious bird, don't be surprised if several hummingbirds buzz around you while you sit on a deck or walk in your yard. As they fly past, a noise sounding like the soft purr of a propeller can be heard, and the breeze from their wings can be felt.
The males are first to arrive to mark their territory. Yes, the males are very territorial. Most of the regular birds do come back each year, but last year the one dominant male and the old female didn't return. Instead, some new hummingbirds moved in.
At first, males and females tolerated each other very well. Quite noticeable was their voice chatter as they talked back and forth to each other. But later, a single male claimed the territory, and he proceeded to drive off other males and even some females. Males can become feisty when other hummingbirds intrude upon their boundaries.
With this in mind, male hummingbirds like to sit on an elevated perch and keep watch; whether it is sitting on a tree, clothesline, or whatever. They stand on guard with their heads constantly turning up toward the sky, down to the ground, and sideways keeping a lookout for other hummingbirds that would enter their zone. The male who was being observed did tolerate a couple of hummingbirds, one female in particular and also another female on occasion, but he attempted to chase all others away. After doing so, he would return to his perch keeping watch again.
In an endeavour to give the ostracized hummingbirds a better chance to feed, several feeders were hung good distances apart; some in the front yard and others in the backyard. This appeared to work pretty well, but every fifteen minutes the dominant male would make a trip around the house to check if other hummingbirds were visiting the feeders. He certainly put out a lot of energy every day patrolling his domain from daybreak to dusk.
The male would perform two dance patterns. From 10 feet high in the air he would swoop down and then swoop 10 feet upward completing a "U" formation, and then he repeated this motion in reverse, back and forth, over and over. He would also fly a very rapid horizontal pattern three feet in length, back and forth several times. He performed these exhibition rituals alone without any other hummingbirds nearby and also while hovering over a female who was closer to ground level. It is claimed these are courtship dances.
In a more relaxed mode, the hummingbirds would preen themselves with their bills, flutter their wings, puff their body feathers, and extend their long tongues fairly frequently.
During the summer, the females would lose weight, probably from looking after their young. Baby hummingbirds were allowed to drink at the feeders, but they didn't seem to stay more than two weeks after they were first noticed at the feeders.
Hummingbird feeders and food can be purchased at local stores, usually those offering garden materials. I have used the food available in stores to make nectar mixtures, as well as my own mixture; both work very well. As far as my own mixture goes, red colouring was never used; instead I would use feeders that were red in colour.
It's a good idea to make daily inspections of the feeders to ensure the feeding tubes aren't plugged. Insects and ants can be attracted to the sweetness of the food mixture, and many can make their way through the feeding tubes into the feeder, sometimes drowning in the liquid or plugging the holes. To lessen the possibility of mixtures fermenting in the feeders from the intense summer sun and heat day after day, it's a healthy practice for the sake of the hummingbirds to clean the feeders thoroughly with hot water at least once a week, and refill the feeders with a new batch of nectar mixture.
Once you start using feeders, the hummingbirds rely on you to feed them. It's amazing how much they can drink in a day. The birds will indicate if they like the food mixture or not. During the warmest part of the day, the hummingbirds like the feeders that are placed in full or partial shade. If we take good care of the hummingbirds, in turn they will give us several months of exceptional viewing pleasure.
In the fall, the hummingbirds eat much more frequently, increasing their body weight for the upcoming long journey south. All of them were actually fat compared to their weight during the summer.
Each year, and for several days just prior to their departure, they would come to the house windows and hover looking in at us, repeating this several times a day. It appeared it was their way of saying thank you for feeding them.
From mid September to the first part of October, most of the regular hummingbirds had left; the males were the first to depart. They left individually, one each day, rather than leaving as a group.
The feeders were kept cleaned and filled with fresh nectar mixtures well into late October just in case any drifters passing through decided to stop in for a drink, and there were quite a few that did.
I hope everyone will have several enjoyable months observing hummingbirds at your homes.