Hummingbirds - Beautiful and Active Birds

By Liz Canham

Hummingbirds are one of the most beautiful and active species of birds to watch; their colour and the way they dart around are so entrancing to the keen bird watcher.

There are over three hundred species of hummingbirds, native to the Americas and parts of the Carribbean. They are particularly renowned for their mid air hovering ability, sustained by the rapid flapping of their wings, between fifteen and eighty times per second, the humming sound of which gives them their name. They are the only species of bird which can also fly backwards as well as vertically, somewhat like a vertical take off and landing aircraft. Interestingly, their feet are not useful for walking, just perching so if they want to travel, they must fly.

There are seventeen species of hummingbirds which live in the USA, mostly in the warmer parts such as Texas, California and Arizona, although some can be found in the east and others in the Rocky Mountains. Most migrate to the warmer climes of Central and South America in winter but their route and destination is very much dependent on species.

Other than their extraordinary flying characteristics, the appearance of the hummingbird is what makes it so attractive. The iridescent sheen of the feathers and gorgeous colouring of blue, green, pink, purple and almost anything in between are quite irresistible to the bird watcher.

If you have a garden in a hummingbird area, you will know that they love brightly coloured flowers. These vary from area to area but Salvia, Buddleia, Nicotiana and Callistemon (Bottle Brush) are universally popular. Hummingbirds have long curved beaks, designed to suck nectar from plants with bell shaped flowers. While feeding, they will hover in mid air which is quite a spectacle and they need to feed approximately every ten minutes. They also eat small insects and pollen for protein so if you can avoid using insecticides in your garden, it would be much better for the hummers. If you want to provide food for your garden hummingbird population, there are plenty of feeders on the market from which to dispense nectar. Try to choose one which has a moat to prevent ants getting to the nectar.

Some people see orange and brown or zebra striped flying creatures in their gardens which hover and act just like hummingbirds. Don't be deceived - these are probably hawk moths.

Hummingbirds court visually. The male may raise his feathers edging the gorget and shake his head from side to side, all the while, making shrill noises. He also does dive displays, accompanied by various sounds made vocally or by the wing feathers. Alternatively, the male may perform a shuttle dance involving flying back and forth very quickly in arc shapes only about ten inches wide and sometimes right in front of the face of the female.

In some species, the males all group together and sing to attract nearby females into their territory. The males and females have separate territories, the females for nesting and the males usually to protect a source of food.

All in all the hummingbird is not only beautiful and active but fascinating to watch in terms of other behaviour.

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