Hummingbirds

Ti-ti, ti-ti, ti-ti, look up quickly and you will see the Ruby-throated Hummingbird on your firebush, salvia, necklacepod, crossvine, pavonia or any other tubular flowers nearby. These birds are here from October to May and are easy to attract.

Hummingbirds often perch on the thin tips of oaks as they wait to fly out and catch a passing insect.  Their food includes mosquitoes, thrips, aphids, spiders and they even blow leaves over on the ground to expose insects. This is called “leaf rolling”.  They are excellent plant pollinators and thick-walled, scentless tubular flowers have evolved just for them. Hummingbirds aren’t attracted by smell and the thick walls keep out pollinators that chew their way to the nectar.

Native species of plants that attract hummers include: firebush, necklace pod, crossvine, pavonia, dicliptera, penstemon, coral honeysuckle, cardinal flower, trumpet vine, coral bean and red salvia. Exotic flowers include: powder puff, fuchsias, aloe species, scarlet begonia, yellow elder, nasturtium, and shrimp-plant. There are others, but some are invasive, and some, like the Butterfly bush don’t last long in our hot climate.

The three and a half inch long, one third of an ounce hummingbird can fly left, right, up, down, forward, backward and, get this, upside down for short spurts.  When active, the hummer’s heart races at 1,250 beats per minute and slows to 250 bpm when resting.  Its wings purr at 60 beats a second.  During cold weather or when food is scarce, the little fellow enters a state of torpor and his heart slows to 50 bpm while his body temperature drops from a normal of 104 to just 55 degrees. If you spot one on a twig, don’t pick him up; he will be fine when the temperature rises outside.

Tiny, bubble filled discs within the feathers give the hummer its color.  The sun reflects light from these, giving off various colors which are flashed at intruders or a mate. Both the male and female ruby throat reflect an iridescent green while the male’s throat reflects a beautiful red.  In the shade these colors turn to black.

Other species of hummingbirds can be rarely seen in South Florida. These come from the western states and the Bahamas. Both the Anna’s and the rufous hummingbird have visited me only once in the last ten years. The black-chinned looks like a ruby-throated yet the male, of course, has a black throat.  The call is a high-pitched squeak and he bobs his tail up and down often; the ruby-throated twitches his tail side to side occasionally.  The rufous Hummingbird is orange and has a low chewp-chewp call.  You may see the nearly identical Allen’s Hummingbird or the green Anna’s Hummingbird.  The male of this species is green with a red head and throat. It is very rare to find any other species of hummingbird in your yard besides the ruby-throated. You may be surprised, however, and hear the unusual sounds that these visitors make.

Attach a timer to your outdoor faucet and run tubing to a mist head clipped to a shrub. Hummers will bathe by flying through this mist and other birds will benefit too if a birdbath is placed beneath. Run this for a half hour to an hour each day.

With binoculars in hand, and ears perked, walk around the yard in the morning near your red salvia or firebush and you may hear the rapid video game-like sounds of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird and get a chance to see him.  Plant your yard for wildlife and you will definitely get hummers.  Maybe not right away, but be patient and you will have them staying the winter in a year or two.