So much to know about hummingbirds

Last week I told you about hummingbird banding in Springfield, Ill.

There’s so much more to say.

Catching a hummingbird in your bare hand has to be amazing. Not many people have earned the permit which allows that. It’s not easy, I’m thinking.

Vernon Kleen did the catching and banding. The man must have a tender touch to hold something so little in his hand and not hurt it, but he’s been doing it since 1960 and has the right technique. And it can’t be easy getting the band ready with one hand. So small they’re kept on a safety pin, the band is actually loose on the bird. Loose like a bracelet, not tight like a watch.

Only one species of hummingbird is usually found in eastern North America, Kleen said. That’s the ruby-throated hummer. Occasionally others of the 340 known species fly through, but those are rare sightings. Ecuador, which boasts more than 160 species, is called the hummingbird capital of the world.

Kleen provided hummingbird fact sheets for those watching him band two birds. A third bird got away before the cage door closed.

“Because hummingbirds have such high-energy lifestyles, they consume food at an enormous rate,” the sheet said. “Their hearts beat about 1,200 times per minute. An average-sized hummingbird at rest consumes energy at a rate 10 times that of a mourning dove. If humans were required to consume food in the same proportion as hummingbirds, they would have to eat 250 or more quarter-pound hamburgers every day.”

That’s a lot of eating.

Also, “because of their unique wing structure, hummingbirds are the only species that can hover and fly backwards in still air. Their wings rotate in a figure-eight motion to gain upward thrust on both the up and down strokes. They can beat their wings up to 100 times per second and have an average flight speed of 25 to 30 mpg; however, during aerial courtship dives, males may attain speeds close to 60 mph.”

Hummingbirds are attracted to red, orange or bright pink flowers, though they will visit flowers of various colors. Good flowers to attract the hummers are salvias, hibiscus, penstemons, trumpet honeysuckles and fuchsias. The little birds also eat insects and invertebrates for proteins, vitamins and minerals.

Nectar isn’t much different than sugar water solutions used in hummingbird feeders. The solution closest to nectar is one cup of white sugar to four cups of water. In spring and fall, the sugar to water ratio may be increased as high as one-to-one. Red food coloring, honey and artificial sweeteners should never be used in the solution; it could kill the birds.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds weigh about 3 grams, slightly less than a penny, but as they get ready to migrate, weight increases to nearly 5 grams.

Each spring, the birds fly some 500 miles non-stop across the Gulf of Mexico in 15 to 20 hours. Going back, they repeat that trip or follow the Texas coast back to southern Mexico, their winter home.

They don’t hitch rides on backs of other birds, Kleen said.

So long friends, until the next time when we’re together.

Sandy Mickelson, retired lifestyle editor of The Messenger, may be reached at mcsalt@frontiernet.net.