Ruby-Throated Hummingbird

This year has been a good one for hummingbird sightings when I’m out walking around.  Sure, you can see them at feeders, but I’ve just noticed more of them than I usually do out ‘in the wild’.  And since Hummingbirds and summer in Ohio go together, I thought this would be a good time to bring them up.

Here’s a picture of a friend’s feeder and the visitor it attracted.

The first time I noticed a hummingbird this year was in the thickets of some bushes in an urban park.  I was trying to get a picture of a rather elusive female American Redstart- her male companion was obliging and had posed for me out in the open, but not the female, who seemed rather shy.  I noticed what I thought at first was a large bug.  I looked closer and realized- it was a hummingbird!  It was rocking back and forth in a pendulum-like fashion in the air, right in front of another hummingbird perched in the bush watching the show.  Suddenly, the hummingbird display ended with a swell of bright red throat feathers- this was a male courting a female.  They flew off together.  Unfortunately, there were all sorts of branches and leaves in the way, so I did not get any usable photos.  It was a great show, though!

These birds were Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds, Ohio’s smallest bird (under 3 inches long in some cases), and eastern North America’s only breeding hummingbird.  The list of interesting facts about these diminuitive birds is a long one.  For instance, their wings beat over 50 times per second; their hearts beat over 1,200 times a minute when flying.  Unlike humans, they can see in ultraviolet light, and they prefer red and orange flowers to sip nectar from.  Their metabolism is so high that when they sleep, they enter a state of torpor, somewhat akin to hibernation, so that their body uses much less fuel at night.  Their torpor can be so deep that touching them may not wake them- don’t do this, please!

Another interesting fact is that hummingbirds eat insects as well as flower nectar.  Gnats, aphids, mosquitoes and spiders, none are safe, and can be plucked out of midair or even from spiderwebs.

If you have a hummingbird feeder, you’ve probably seen some squabbles between these birds over this source of food.  Hummingbirds can and do fight.  This recent Birding in Maine blog post caught a dispute on film.

To me, the most amazing of all of the facts about the Ruby-throated Hummingbird is that it migrates thousands of miles to Central America in the autumn, and returns to North America in the spring.  This teeny bird merely a few inches long will fly all of that distance, and it will even fly over the Gulf of Mexico in one flight!  Fishermen have reported seeing them flying fairly low over the water during migration- it can take 20 hours to fly over this great body of water.  Imagine all of the fattening up they need to do to have the necessary fuel for this flight.

I’ve seen these birds here and there during the summer, sometimes buzzing by, other times flying from flower to flower to look for nectar.  Here are some photos I took of a female Ruby-Throat sipping from a Milkweed one morning next to a small lake.

For more facts about these birds, you may be interested in checking out the World of Hummingbirds website.  Nature’s wonders never cease to amaze me!