Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to take part in the New River Hummingbird Festival hosted by ACE. I learned far more about this tiny creature than I had ever expected. Bill Hilton Jr. was our guide into the world of the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. And I can attest, he is a wealth of knowledge.
Some of the highlights of my experience include:
1. On its migratory journey each year, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird travels thousands of miles – maybe even 3,000 miles if you consider the round trip. All accounts suggest it summers in eastern North America and winters in Central America. It is the only hummingbird that breeds east of the Mississippi River, aside from the occasional vagrant hummingbird that flies in from the west.
3. In the spring, the male hummingbird returns first to solidify a territory. The female returns about 8-10 days later. To be a contender in the reproductive process, the male must secure a location that provides a good source of food for the female’s young.
3. What some may call a beak is actually a bill. A hummingbird drinks liquid just like a dog. It has a fork at the end of its tongue that can be overlapped to form something like a spoon. Its tongue is twice as long as its bill and wraps all the way around the head. If you watch closely, you can see its throat and the top of its head move while drinking.
4. Hummingbirds enjoy nectar for energy. It’s their equivalent to our carbohydrates. However, carbs are only part of what they need. The protein portion of their diet is made up of tiny insects. They weigh in at 3 to 4 grams – less than the weight of a nickel. They will bulk up in late summer (that’s a whole gram of additional fat) to make the final leg down to Central America.
5. To lure Ruby-throated Hummingbirds to your yard, use their favorite plants and sugar water. They are particularly fond of Trumpet Creeper, Honeysuckle Lonicera, Wild Columbine and Red Bee Balm. “Canned food” should be made using a 4 to 1 mixture of water and sugar. Leave out the red food coloring as it can be harmful and is not necessary to attract them. Also, be sure to change the liquid out every few days so it doesn’t spoil.