Amazing Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds are really concoctions of feathers and air— figuratively and literally. Some scientists think they “should” not be able to fly with so little muscle mass. Other scientists who study hummingbirds continue to produce amazing facts about them such as their observed ability to go into a “torpor” state to conserve energy, which is similar to hibernating but   doesn’t involve actual sleep.

When I have read in scientific journals about these amazing creatures I am fascinated with their method of getting oxygen. Unlike humans who breathe in and out- through the lungs– hummingbirds have a one-way flow of air. Air flows into the lungs and then circulates around some other air sacs—9 of them to be exact to then be expelled out the nostrils but not via the lungs. This allows for richly oxygenated air to be constantly supplying the lung’s arteries with fuel for flight.

We have all seen the two species of hummingbirds in our area hover over flowers, fly backward (the only species of bird that can do this maneuver), do aerial gymnastics to fight off other hummers and in general “zip” around our yards. We have two species with an occasional rarity showing up. Anna’s hummingbirds stay year round but the Rufous hummers are only here in the summer months. If you are fortunate enough to go south there are many species of hummingbirds in the American Southwest and in Mexico – some with great variations in the coloration from our two species and some much larger or much smaller. Our two hummingbirds weigh about what a penny in your pocket weighs!


A continued question that people ask me is about feeding hummingbirds. Like most animals the closer to natural and real food is probably healthier so plant some nectar rich plants. This year I found some blue flowered plants at the Cedar Mill Farmer’s market, which I had never seen before. Amazingly the hummingbirds really like them—I wish I knew the name but I don’t— generally I had heard that they prefer red or orange or yellow flowers and always before they did seem to prefer my fuchsias or the crocosmias but this year the blue flowers are the more preferred food.

If you do choose to feed hummingbirds make sure to clean the feeder really regularly. This is a time commitment since in the hotter days the sugar water turns to vinegar within a day or two. Also mold grows rapidly so use a small brush designed for feeders and scrub away. I personally don’t use bleach since I am not confident I can rinse it enough to not have some traces left. Hard scrubbing does the trick. Also most Audubon sites do not recommend the use of red colorings often found in commercial foods—according to some experts this is not good for bird liver function. I generally  “saturate” the water instead of using a specific recipe but there are recipes on line.

Besides all the amazing science and function—hummingbirds are simply inspiring creatures. What lovely pieces of natural beauty, which inspire delight and joy when we see them.  We are soon to say goodbye to our summer guests the Rufous ones—ours were very prolific this year and are gathering now to fly south together—we must have at least six in our yard now drinking down the nectar in the feeder every day putting on “weight” to fly the thousands of miles. Amazing hummingbirds indeed.

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