Hummingbirds usually begin to arrive at the CPN Eagle Aviary the first week of April. We mainly see ruby-throated hummingbirds, although during migration seasons we have been fortunate to have black-chinned and rufous hummingbirds stop by our feeders as well.
This year, we saw our first ruby-throated hummingbird on March 30. We had a mild winter and that may have contributed to their early arrival. We usually put out partially filled feeders the last week in March, especially if the weather has been nice, and make sure to change out the nectar every three or four days so they can enjoy fresh food when they return.
Most ruby-throated hummingbirds spend the winter in Central America by flying all the way across the Gulf of Mexico. Although, some northern birds stay in North America along the Gulf Coast, parts of the southern Atlantic coast and at the tip of Florida. After such a strenuous trip, the feeders are surely a welcomed sight, especially during the first of spring when flowers are just beginning to bloom.
Our first hummingbird visitor
We have always tried to foster a peaceful, natural environment for the eagles and that has been beneficial for other wildlife on the property. The first hummingbird we ever saw at the aviary showed up during the chaos of construction as we were trying to complete the buildings in the summer of 2012. One afternoon we were in the office as the graphics were being installed on the wall when we noticed a hummingbird hovering outside the front window. He would zip back and forth from the window to the doorway.
The landscaping had not been completed and there were no flowers near the building, and very few flowers blooming on the property because at the time we were experiencing a drought in the region.
When stepped outside to get a better look at him and we immediately noticed what had caught his attention. The bright yellows and oranges of the graphics on the wall reflected onto the glass and he must have thought he had found an oasis blooming in the summer heat. We immediately went to get a hummingbird feeder.
That first year we had nearly a dozen hummingbirds coming to the feeders regularly. As we planted in the landscaped areas around the aviary we tried to focus on flowering plants that would be beneficial to hummingbirds and other pollinators. Now we have more hummingbirds than we can count and during the summer, guests have the opportunity to experience the smallest and the largest migratory bird in the U.S. share space in a unique way. We believe that all things are connected and we know that the eagle and the hummingbird share a unique connection.
When we put out our first hummingbird feeder we didn’t really know all that much about hummingbirds. They primarily eat flower nectar, tree sap, small insects and pollen in addition to the sugar water meant to mimic nectar that can be offered in feeders. For such a small bird they are incredibly complex.
Hummingbirds earned their name because of the humming sound that is made by their beating wings which flap from 20-200 times per second. They have the highest metabolism of any warm-blooded animal and their heart rate can reach up to 1,260 beats per minute. Hummingbirds take 250 breaths per minute, even at rest. They generally live to be three to five years old, but the oldest hummingbird on record was banded as a one-year-old adult and recaptured 11 years later, making her 12 years old. The smallest hummingbird weighs less than a penny.
Hummingbirds share many of the same problems that larger migratory birds, like eagles, face in the wild. Historically hummingbirds were killed for their feathers, today they face different but equally devastating threats of habitat loss and destruction.
As hummingbirds are often specially adapted to each unique habitat, each species of hummingbird currently listed on the IUCN Red List are all threatened due to habitat destruction and loss. The earth's changing temperatures due to climate change are affecting hummingbird migratory patterns, causing different species to be spotted in locations well outside their normal range, where it may be harder for them to find food. So providing food may be vital in preventing any more species of hummingbirds from becoming endangered.
The nectar recipe that we use is four parts water to one part sugar is closest to the sucrose levels of the most popular flowers. You cannot use honey, molasses, fruit juice or artificial sweeteners or food coloring to make hummingbird nectar, as none of them are adequate and some could actually be dangerous to the birds. We have also found out that if you would rather buy a premixed food that they seem to love Pennington’s ready-to-use ElectroNectar Hummingbird & Oriole Food more than any other premixed food we have tried.
To conserve energy when food is scarce, and nightly when not foraging, they go into torpor, a state similar to hibernation, slowing their metabolic rate down to 1/15th of its normal rate.
When it comes to flying, nobody does it better. They can maneuver, down, sideways, backward and even upside down. Most of its wings are made of hand bones instead of arm bones like other birds’ wings. When hovering, the wings turn in opposite directions and then reverse themselves in a figure-eight movement. Hummingbirds also have muscles that power both the up and down stroke instead of just the down stroke, as in other birds. Hummingbirds are such good flyers that most of them never walk.
To assist hummingbirds in your area, we encourage our readers to implement feeders for these marvelous creatures into their outdoor spaces.
Jennifer Randall, CPN Aviary manager