Friday, July 29, 2011

Sugar Sugar

"Oh honey honey, you are my candy girl and you got me wanting you!"  Ruby-throated hummingbirds, dragonflies, and butterflies are starting to pass through Illinois on their fall migration south.

If you haven't already, it's time to get those hummingbird feeders hung outside.  I have a beautiful new one from my son, Trent, & family.   I've typically had Farm King cheap and they work just fine but had finally given up to age and fell apart.  My new one is made of metal and glass. 

Since it's been so hot lately, I'll warn hummingbird lovers to change the food every other day if there's any left.  It goes bad and most birds won't touch it or it will not be good for them once it's turned rancid.

Don't waste your money on commercial hummingbird food.  I take my two cup Pyrex measuring cup, fill with 1/4 cup white sugar (granulated) and 1 3/4 cup of water.  Microwave for one minute, take out, stir and let sit until cool.  This will usually fill two feeders each half full.  If you have many birds, you may have to fill all the way or refill every day.

Although there are many different hummingbirds, only one, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Archilochus colubris, lives this far north and east in the United States.  Most reside along the west coast and south into Mexico.

Typically, they are 3 inches from tip to tip and weigh 1/8 oz.  They are the smallest bird in Illinois. Their bill is long, straight and very slender. 

The adult male is the one with the ruby red throat and black chin.  Bet you never thought of a bird as having a chin!  He also has the metallic green back and white belly. Females and juveniles lack the red.  Immatures may be much rounder and have fluffy feathers.

Typical of hummingbirds, the males start migrating much earlier than the females and immatures.  Because they winter in south and central America, they all must make the 500 mile non-stop trip across the Gulf of Mexico twice a year.  A seriously tough little bird. 

Did you realize the hummingbird is the only bird species capable of flying backwards?  Unlike any other bird, their wings are connected only from the shoulder joint.  The male's wings may beat up to 200 times a SECOND during a mating demo.  No wonder they looked blurred!

The Ruby is solitary and only come together when mating.  Both males and females defend their feeding territories.  How many of you have seen the little birds spending more time fighting off another Ruby than they do eating?  They become more aggressive this time of the year when they need to store calories for migration.  They typically increase their body mass by double, storing the calories as fat to accomplish the 500 mile trip.   

They don't just eat from your feeder.  Think of your feeder as dessert or supplements.  Their preference is flower nectar and small insects and spiders.  The female feeds their babies insects which provides protein for the growing body. 

Most of us never see their nests - the size of a walnut and 10-20 feet above ground.  They may use them several years in a row.  They have 2-3 broods a year and the nest stretches as the babies get larger.

As you know if you are a hummer observer, they become easily accustomed to humans.  I had one land on my arm one summer.  If I hadn't seen him land, I wouldn't have realized he was even there - he was that light.

Next year, consider the hummers and the flowers that attract them.  Natural nectar sources will attract them first prior to your feeders.  Any red or orange shaded trumpet-shaped flower is a magnet.  Hybrid honeysuckle and trumpet vines provide attraction from early spring through fall.  Several annuals, such as cardinal climbers,  attract also.

Enjoy your supply of hummers as they store up food prior to heading south and realize it's an indication our own winter isn't all that far away.  Sigh...   

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