One of nature's most remarkable and spectacular creations is the hummingbird. Weighing no more than about one-eighth of an ounce, some species such as the ruby-throated hummingbird are no more than four inches long. Even though they are so small, their colorings of emerald green, ruby red, sapphire blue, fiery orange, and black velvet make them spectacular.
Unlike other species of birds, the hummingbird doesn't perch or sit or even hop along the ground to search for food, like the robin. Nor does it catch insects on its wings in flight as do the purple martin and other swallows.
Instead, the hummingbird flits and flies from flower to flower for nectar, like a bumblebee.
Brightly colored flowers with trumpet petals of deep reds and oranges are its favorite invitation to a meal. This tiny bird almost seems to dance from one flower to the next. The hummer can frequently disappear entirely inside the inviting colored petals and drive a slender needlelike bill, the size of the neck and head combined, deep within the waiting nectar bag.
The flowers vibrate and sway back and forth while the tiny bird draws each flower's sweetness up a slender hollow tongue that's slit at the ends.
Once the bird's bill is full of honey dew and its face covered with pollen dust, the hummingbird flies backward out of the flower and hangs motionless in midair to digest the dinner. Wings drum so rapidly that the bird hovers like a motionless helicopter. Whirring wings against the air create a musical humming sound that gives the hummingbird its name.
Then, turning slightly this way and that, the hummingbird picks the next flower so as to continue a delightful dinner, all the while showing off its spectacular colors to anyone who happens to see it. Pivoting right and left, and sometimes almost all the way around, lets the sun reflect and flash the bird's brilliant colors as a jeweler might turn a diamond in the light.
Seeing the hummer's plumage and remarkable eating habits wouldn't be hard once you know this bird's weaknesses for flowers and nectar. The fastest way to attract this tiny visitor is to plant its favorite flowers.
Since bees usually beat the hummingbird to most flat- faced flowers, the hummer prefers the tubelike ones. The Japanese flowering quince and columbine are sure to turn a migrating hummer's head. Others include the azalea, canna, honeysuckle, weigelia, lilac, petunia, nasturtium, lily, delphinium, iris, scarlet sage, snapdragon, phlox, and morning glory.
Another way to lure the hummingbird is to make a hummingbird feeder. First, find an empty eyedropper bottle that is 3 or 4 inches deep. Cut off the top of the rubber plunger. Then, push the plastic tube through the hole in the cap. Cut the outside part of the tube on a slight angle. You can even tie a bright red ribbon around the bottle for attraction.
Now for the artificial flower nectar. Add one part honey to three parts boiled water or one part sugar to one part water. Add a little red food coloring to help entice the hummer to the feeder. To keep the ants away put a sticky coating around the tube or bottle. Petroleum jelly works well.
Next, wire the bottle securely to a stake or a window sash to make the tube opening stand at a right angle. A clothes hanger does the job. Now be prepared for hummingbird visits to your backyard.
With attractive flowers and a feeder, you may even get a pair to stay a while to make a nest.But finding the nest is something else again. You have to search very closely among the branches and leaves because the hummer's nest is no bigger than your thumb. Also, the nest is cleverly camouflaged with plant moss and spider webs to look like a tree branch extension or just another leaf.
The nest, 20 to 30 feet above the ground, has one, and sometimes two, pure white eggs in it.
Some birds stop off in Florida and other Southern states. But most cross the 500-mile Gulf of Mexico and strike out for the Yucatan peninsula or Central America without a single stop for food or rest. About 600 species live solely in the Americas.
The following spring they return to North America to startle and amaze us with their remarkable and spectacular feeding habits and flying acrobatics.