Tiny wonders of the avian world
Living in Balance
By Jenipher Appleton
What lays pea-sized eggs, weighs an eighth of an ounce, and can be confused with a moth? It is none other than the truly incredible hummingbird. Only one species inhabits the eastern region of Canada: the ruby-throated or Archilochus colubris. Several other species are found throughout other parts of North and South America.
The ruby-throated hummingbird lays two pea-sized white eggs, which incubate for 18-23 days. The miniscule nest resembles a natural knob on the branch of a leafy tree or shrub. The chicks are actually larger than their mothers when they leave the nest because of the stress placed on the parent while raising them. Two summers ago our neighbour Steve Kozak was able to observe such a nest attached to a gnarly branch in one of his maple trees. He used a stepladder to take the odd peek at this amazing sight and managed some interesting video footage.
Time to put out those hummingbird feeders!
May 1st is a good time to put out your hummingbird feeder because they arrive back from the sunny south around this time. If you want to establish their presence in your yard, food must be available. I haven’t seen a hummer yet this spring, but my birding friend Val had one at her feeder last weekend. I put my feeder out the moment I heard they were back. (Orioles will be here soon as well, so you might want to think about getting the oriole feeder filled with their preferred orange-flavoured nectar as well.
The name ‘hummer’ comes from the sound of the wings, which beat an amazing 40-80 times per second. Average flight speed is 50 km/h. The birds are seen darting about, changing directions like green arrows. Their average heart rate is 250 beats per minute while resting (compare that to the human heart at about 70) and the hummer breathes about 250 times per minute. In spite of these high rates of respiration and heartbeats, the hummingbird has been known to live for twelve years, although the average lifespan is between three and five years.
The hummingbird has very short legs and consequently does not really walk or hop; it can only shuffle along a perch. However, it can still scratch its head and neck by raising a foot up and over its wing – quite the acrobat! Contrary to a popular myth, hummers do not hitch rides on other birds. They leave their northern breeding grounds in the second half of August or first week of September, travelling vast distances to winter in Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean islands. Banded birds show that they return to the exact location the following spring.
Last season in our yard, we noted that the hummingbirds that visited us preferred the flowers to the feeders. The bell-shaped flowers of the hosta lilies were a favourite. They also were partial to columbine, bee balm, phlox, petunias, lilies, trumpet vine and virtually any cone-shaped flowers. If you do put out nectar, a homemade concoction of one part sugar to four parts water is appropriate. Make sure to boil the water to dissolve the sugar and allow it to cool before adding to the feeder. Clean feeders at least once a week.
We have had several rose-breasted grosbeaks at our feeders this week. My birding friend Val has had large groups of blue jays (up to twenty at one sitting!). Plus, several people in the Ailsa Craig and Nairn areas have spotted bald eagles.
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