Bird Lady Blog

September 6, 2010

Hummingbirds

Filed under: Hummingbirds,Munds Park Birding — Munds Park Birding @ 6:03 am

To the best of my observation, we have three hummingbird species found regularly in Munds Park.  They are the Broad-tailed Hummingbird, Black-chinned Hummingbird, and Rufous Hummingbird.

Hummingbirds are amazing creatures.  I am reminded of my nephew, who at the age of five in Illinois saw his first hummingbird fly past and said to my sister in a frightened voice “Mommy, watch out for that big bee!”  He most likely saw the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, the only hummer regularly found east of the Mississippi River, and he was right about the resemblance to a large bee.  In fact, there is a Bee Hummingbird that is only two inches long and the smallest bird in the world.  But it is found in Cuba, not Munds Park.  The largest of hummingbirds is the Giant Hummingbird, found in the Andes Mountain regions of Argentina and Chile.  It is eight inches long.  Hummingbirds across the world range from the smallest at two inches to the largest at eight inches, and here in Munds Park, our hummers are about right in the middle – at three to four inches.

 Here are some interesting facts about hummingbirds:

  • They beat their wings 18-20 times per second.
  • They are the only birds that can fly backwards.
  • They are partial to flower nectar that is at least 15% sugar.
  • For protein they eat small insects and spiders, especially when feeding their young.
  • They spend about 20% of their time eating and 80% resting and digesting.
  • Their heart rate can be as high as 1,280 beats per minute (yes, per minute, not hour).
  • Less than 25 species of hummingbirds have been recorded in the U.S.
  • Chile has recorded 162 different species of hummingbirds!

I am amazed that one country has 162 different species of hummingbirds, but I feel fortunate that here in Arizona we can find many more species than the rest of the country.  In Munds Park, the most common hummingbird is the Broad-tailed Hummingbird.  This bird thrives in pinyon/juniper and pine/oak areas.  The most distinctive feature is its distinct trilling sound as it flies, produced only by the male.  The male has a metallic green back and crown, white breast, rose gorget, and rounded tail.  This species goes into a torpor on cold nights – literally shutting down so that its body temperature is maintained at about 54 degrees when the temperature falls below 44 degrees outside.  An interesting fact about the Broad-tailed Hummingbird is that a banded female holds the North American age record for hummingbirds at 12 years old. 

 Another species I see at our feeder is the Black-chinned Hummingbird.  The male has an iridescent purple throat with a black chin and a white spot behind its eye.  These birds are quite widespread, found from deserts to mountain forests.  This bird will often feed and then return to a favorite perch on a high snag to survey its feeding territory.

The third species is a feisty hummingbird that I wrote about last year – the Rufous Hummingbird.  Of the three in this article, but Rufous is the most aggressive, often diving at competing birds at our feeders.  It is the smallest, at only about three inches, and if any bird has a “Napolean complex”, it would be the Rufous Hummingbird as it chases off other birds around a feeder.   Males are almost all orange or rusty except for their white breast and green wings.  If you see one sitting on your feeder in the bright sunlight, I think you would agree it is gorgeous.

Another important piece of information about hummingbirds:  if you have a feeder, use one part white sugar to four parts water and do not put red food coloring in the mixture.  Artificial coloring is not necessary – birds will find your bright red feeder.  In hot weather, change the sugar water every couple of days, especially if the feeder gets a lot of sun exposure.

I am not going to describe in this article the females of these species because without a lot of study they are difficult to identify.  But if you have more interest in hummingbirds, visit the web site of the Southeastern Arizona Bird Observatory, at www.sabo.org.  Located near the San Pedro River in southern Arizona, SABO holds hummingbird banding volunteer workshops.  If you go, you might even get to meet Sheri Williams, a co-founder of SABO and author of the Peterson Field Guide to Hummingbirds in North America.  Or catch the Hummingbird Festival next year at the Arboretum at Flagstaff.  I just visited the Arboretum on a rainy Saturday in August, and even then there was an abundance of hummingbirds in their garden and at their feeders.

You can reach me at margaretdyekman@cox.net, and you can read all the articles and leave your comments at www.birdladyblog.wordpress.com.  It is always great to hear from other birders, and I welcome your questions and comments!

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