Years ago, my mother would often call me in early May and announce, “My hummers are back!” Notice Mom didn’t say, “The hummingbirds are back.” She said, “My hummers are back.” Mom loved her hummers and always hung her hummingbird feeder in her back yard at the end of April. Then she waited in joyful anticipation to spot the first returnee—usually around Mother’s Day.
This past week, the June/July issue of Birds & Blooms arrived. It features hummingbirds. So I took that as a sign to devote today’s blog to hummingbirds. Let’s begin with a few facts. There are over 300 species of hummingbirds. Some are teeny: .08 of an ounce. Others are “big”: .7 of an ounce. Hummingbirds beat their wings 80 times per second. Amazingly, they can fly left, right, up, down, forward, backward, and even upside down! This maneuverability requires a strong heart. A hummingbird’s heart is 20% of its weight and it beats 1,260 times per minute. Compare that to our human heart. A person weighing 175 pounds has a heart that is 0.3% of their body mass and it beats 72 times per minute.
Hummingbirds need a lot of nourishment to stay active and alive. They typically eat nectar, tree sap, insects, and pollen. Even their long tongues are fast. They can lick 13 times per second. Hummers need to eat eight to ten times their weight each day! If you required that much food, how many pounds of food would you have to eat in a day?!
Hummingbirds are found only in the Western hemisphere, from southeastern Alaska to the tropics. Interestingly, they cannot walk or hop. Their feet are used only for perching. If they are perched on a twig and want to move over a bit, they can’t scoot over. They have to fly to move over.
The gestation period for hummingbirds is 13-22 days, depending on the species. The female lays 1-3 eggs in a nest the size of a thimble or shot glass. The nest is usually made from saliva and spider webs. The female is totally responsible for raising the young. I don’t know what the males do with all their free time! The young birds fly in 18-30 days. Hummingbirds are very territorial and have been seen chasing even large hawks from their territory.
Decades ago, the major threat to hummingbirds was the human species who killed them for their incredibly beautiful feathers. Today the greatest threat is still humans who are destroying their habitat at an alarming rate. But there is hope. So many people love hummingbirds, that many of them hang feeders and plant flowers in their yard to attract and support this amazing little bird.
I have two videos for you today. This first one (a little over 2 minutes in length) is called “The Hummingbird Whisperer” and it tells of a researcher and photographer’s love for hummingbirds. I chose this one because I feel to appreciate hummingbirds, we must see them in motion. I also appreciate the young woman’s enthusiasm for hummers!
The second video is Peter Mayer’s beautiful “Everything Is Holy Now.” I have used it before, I know, but it seems so appropriate for this topic. At the end, he compares a little chirping bird to a scripture verse!
Did anything touch you or surprise you in this reflection?
Have you had any experiences with hummingbirds that you would like to share with us?
Is there anything else in creation that you think of as one of Mother Nature’s jewels? We’d love to hear from you!