For the Love of Birds: April brings out ruby-throated hummingbirds
Let the migration begin. Ruby-throated hummingbirds are on the way.
Spotted in Texas and southern Oklahoma, soon to be in Kansas, the anticipation is growing. It is the smallest bird to visit and nest in the state of Kansas. Three to 4 inches long, they can weigh in at 2 to 4 grams, about the same weight as a penny. They are so small but yet so mighty!
The male has a bright red throat, black mask and chin, forked black tail and a metallic green back. The female and juveniles have a white throat, black tail with white tips and green back.
The journey begins in Central America. They double their weight before the journey and begin at dusk for a nonstop flight up to 500 miles over the Gulf of Mexico, lasting 18 to 22 hours depending on the weather conditions. The remainder of their migration will occur during the daylight hours and can take them as far north as Canada. The males are the first to migrate, with the females following weeks later. Hummers are solitary migrants because they stop frequently to feed, and don’t want to wait for other hummers at the food source.
The ruby-throated hummingbirds are very territorial. They will defend their food source by dive-bombing other hummers trying to drink from the feeders or flowers. Their diets consist of nectar from feeders, tubular flowers and tiny insects. To make the nectar for the feeders, add 1/4 cup of white table sugar to 1 cup of boiled water. Allow the nectar solution to cool before filling your feeder. To prevent the growth of mold and bacteria, clean your feeder every three to four days or sooner if you see that the nectar is cloudy. Dispose of the old nectar solution, and wash your feeder in hot water.
The hummingbirds can beat their wings more than 50 times a second in normal flight, or during courtship up to 200 times per second. No other birds can fly backwards, upside down, or hover as well as the hummingbird. They can fly as fast as 27 mph and have been clocked at speeds of 55 to 60 mph. They can land in various places to watch over their territory, but their legs and feet are not strong enough for walking.
Once the female hummingbird visits the male’s territory, he will perform a courtship display. If she likes it, she will mate with him. She soon begins to build the nest with tiny bits of plant material such as milkweed and weaves it together with spider silk, camouflaging the outside of the nest with pieces of lichen. The nest is not much bigger than a walnut shell and is usually built on a branch in a tree. There are two white eggs in a clutch, and they are about the size of a coffee bean. It can take anywhere from 11 to 16 days to hatch and they can fledge at 14 to 18 days old. The lifespan of the ruby-throated hummingbird, if it survives its first year, can be around six to eight years.
This incredible bird is coming our way soon. Place a feeder on or near a window so you can see this beautiful bird up close. The ruby-throated hummingbird will stay all summer and into the fall. Don’t worry, they know when to migrate back so leave the feeders out as long as you can. They’ll be here soon, so find your feeders and get them ready!
— Colleen Winter is the owner of Wild Birds Unlimited, 13222 W. 62nd Terrace, in Shawnee.