Issue 8 | June 2023 | Hummingbirds – Jewels in Flight

Issue 8, June 2023, Hummingbirds, Jewels in Flight, CoreShark H2O, ecosystem

By Debi Cruse, Guest Writer

They flit, hover, dance and dive. Hummingbirds, with their boundless beauty in shades of ruby, emerald, blue, and purple, perform aerial acrobatics that entertain, then quickly disappear from the eye.

I’m not quite sure why, but I’ve always had a fascination with hummingbirds. There are roughly 17 species in the United States, Issue 8, June 2023, Hummingbirds, Jewels in Flight, CoreShark H2O, ecosystemyet most states see only one or two different species. For instance, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird crosses the Gulf of Mexico on an 18 to 22 hour, nonstop flight to its summer breeding grounds and is only found east of the Mississippi. It is the smallest bird in the Chesapeake Bay Region. 

Of the approximately 340 species of hummingbirds, the Rufous, Selasphorus rufus, Hummingbird travels approximately 3,900 miles (each way) along the Pacific Coast to its breeding ground in the far north. This is the longest documented migration of any hummingbird. 

Issue 8, June 2023, Hummingbirds, Jewels in Flight, CoreShark H2O, ecosystemThe smallest living bird in the world is the Bee Hummingbird and is found only in Cuba. It weighs 0.07 ounces and is approximately 2.25 inches long. The nest is barely an inch wide, while the eggs are about the size of a coffee bean or a pea.

Hummingbirds can live in a wide range of climates; however, their natural habitat is the Americas, from southeastern Alaska to southern Chile. The hummingbird’s heart beats up to 1,260 beats per minute. In comparison, the human heart beats 60 to 100 beats per minute. They have the largest brain of all birds and can remember every flower they visit.

Hummingbirds are the only birds that can fly backward and upside down. Their wings flap around 20 to 80 times per second, which allows them to hover in midair. Throughout the ages, scientists and inventors have often turned to nature for inspiration. Such was the case for the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency with the development of AeroVironment’s Nano Hummingbird. The Nano Hummingbird is a prototype drone device that can mimic the flight of hummingbirds, enabling it to gather information with a camera while accessing previously unreachable locations. 

Hummingbirds are superb pollinators and have an essential role in the ecosystem. Their long beaks allow them to reach deep into hundreds of flowers each day for Issue 8, June 2023, Hummingbirds, Jewels in Flight, CoreShark H2O, ecosystemnourishment. Their feathers are covered in tiny hooks which collect pollen when their bodies come in contact with flowers. The rapid flapping of their wings transfers pollen to the next flower they encounter while simultaneously collecting more pollen, resulting in cross-pollination. In addition to keeping plant populations diverse, cross-pollination is important because genetic diversity helps secure plant survival by enabling them to adapt and evolve when changes to their ecosystems occur. 

Not only are hummingbirds great pollinators, they also help control the insect population by eating various insects. Hummingbirds need nutrients not found in nectar to stay healthy. They feed on fruit flies, spiders, ants, mosquitoes, beetles, wasps, gnats, aphids, mites, and leafhoppers to obtain those nutrients. But don’t try to feed them dried or dead bugs, hummingbirds prefer live insects.

Hummingbirds are not a socially involved species. They will tenaciously swoop in to chase other hummingbirds away from feeders and defend their territory Issue 8, June 2023, Hummingbirds, Jewels in Flight, CoreShark H2O, ecosystemsurrounding a favorite flower patch, so it’s not surprising that hummingbirds don’t mate for life. The female cares for the eggs and raises the chicks on her own. However, there is the exception to the rule. A few species of males in the tropics form what’s known as leks, a group of male hummingbirds that congregate to sing and perform amazing aerial acrobatics for the purpose of attracting a mate. They strut their stuff and puff out their chests while dancing in the air and shaking their tail feathers. 

Hummingbirds belong to the class of Aves, warm-blooded vertebrates that include birds. Their predators include snakes, hawks, praying mantises, dragonflies, frogs, other birds, and because they can become entangled in their webs, orb-weaver spiders. 

All hummingbird threats aren’t necessarily natural predators. Scientists have known for years that habitat loss and invasive plants can affect the ecosystems of hummingbirds, but they also predict that climate change will ultimately influence hummingbird populations. 

Hummingbirds time their migration with spring’s flowering and are attracted to a variety of plants, some of which are noxious to them and are invasive to sensitive ecosystems. Issue 8, June 2023, Hummingbirds, Jewels in Flight, CoreShark H2O, ecosystemTo keep a safe and healthy environment for hummingbirds, check out the U.S. Department of Agriculture  guide for attracting hummingbirds to your garden using native plants. If you don’t have the means of attracting hummingbirds to a garden, hanging a hummingbird feeder will give them a place to recharge. Feeders can go up in early April and should be taken down around late October.

Directions for making safe hummingbird food:

  • Using only refined white sugar, mix one part sugar with four parts water until sugar is dissolved.
  • Do not add red (or any other color) dye.
  • Fill the hummingbird feeder with sugar water and hang outside, making sure the feeder is inaccessible to cats and other animals.
  • Extra sugar water can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week. Always check for mold before using.
  • The Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute recommends thoroughly cleaning and changing feeders every other day, but no less than twice a week in the summer and once a week in spring and fall.

For those unable to plant flowers or hang feeders, another unique way to contribute to the well-being of hummingbirds is to drink Bird Friendly® coffee. Coffee farms in parts of Central America and Mexico maintain flowers that hummingbirds depend on, which in turn preserves critical habitat and protects biodiversity with sustainable farming.

So sit back, relax and enjoy these wonderful jewels of the sky as they take flight to perform their aerial acrobatics.

Issue 8, June 2023, Hummingbirds, Jewels in Flight, CoreShark H2O, ecosystem