National Hummingbird Day

September 2th is National Hummingbird Day, a day to appreciate and celebrate these small, colorful birds. Hummingbirds are some of the most fascinating creatures, capturing the imagination with their speedy flight, hovering abilities, and long migrations. This article will provide an overview of hummingbirds, their unique traits and behaviors, conservation efforts, and how to attract them to your yard.

National Hummingbird Day

Interesting Facts About Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds are found only in the Americas. There are over 300 species of hummingbirds, all found in North, South, and Central America. They are not found naturally anywhere else in the world. Their range extends as far north as Alaska and as far south as Chile.

They have incredibly fast wing beats. A hummingbird’s wings can beat up to 80 times per second. This allows them to hover in place or fly backwards, capabilities unique among birds. The speed of their wing beats also generates the characteristic humming sound that gives them their name.

They have the fastest metabolism of all animals. Because of the energy required to power their wings, hummingbirds have very fast metabolisms. Their hearts can beat up to 1,260 times per minute and they breathe 250 times per minute while at rest. To fuel this metabolism, they eat the equivalent of their body weight in nectar each day and visit hundreds or even thousands of flowers.

They are some of the smallest birds. Many hummingbird species measure only 2 to 4 inches long. The smallest is the Bee Hummingbird found in Cuba, which is only 2 inches from bill to tail. Despite their tiny size, they are aggressive and territorial.

They migrate incredible distances. Though small, hummingbirds are capable of migrating hundreds or even thousands of miles between their breeding and wintering grounds. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds travel over 2,000 miles between Canada and Central America twice a year. Some species traverse the 500 miles across the Gulf of Mexico nonstop, an impressive feat for their size.

Only the males are brightly colored. In most hummingbird species, the males have the vibrant, iridescent colors while females are more drab or green in color. This dimorphism helps camouflage the female on the nest. The dazzling colors of the males are used to attract females and defend territory.

Unique Traits and Behaviors

Hummingbirds display many fascinating behaviors and adaptations:

Hovering ability – They can rapidly beat their wings forwards and backwards or backwards and forwards to hover suspended in one place while they feed. Other birds can only hover briefly.

Nectar as food – Flower nectar makes up the main part of their diet, providing a quick energy boost. They use their slender, specially adapted tongues to drink the nectar.

Insect eating – They also eat small insects for protein, catching them in midair or gleaning them from plants. Preferred insects include mosquitoes, fruit flies, spiders, and gnats.

Aggressiveness – Males vigorously defend nectar-rich flowering plants as their territory from other males and females. They perform aerial displays and chase intruders while chipping angrily.

Sunning – Hummingbirds will perch in a sunny spot and orient their wings in a certain way to expose the surface area to as much sunlight as possible. This behavior helps control their body temperature and is called sunning.

Torpor – To conserve energy when food is scarce, hummingbirds can enter a hibernation-like, deep sleep state called torpor. Their metabolic rate slows, body temperature drops, and heart and breathing rates decrease. They may remain in torpor up to several hours each night.

Migration – Most species migrate, with northern populations moving south to warmer climates in winter. They navigate using landmarks and an internal guidance system. Some fly across the Gulf of Mexico nonstop, flying an incredible 18-22 hours.

Unusual flight – They can fly straight up, down, backwards, upside down, and in elaborate courtship displays. Their wings permit great maneuverability allowing them to visit flowers while hovering.

Tongue adaption – Their tongue has tubes that collect nectar, capillary action pulls the nectar into their mouths. Forked tips allow them to lap up nectar at a rate of 13 licks per second.

Threats and Conservation

Though colorful and charismatic, hummingbirds face threats from habitat loss, pesticides, outdoor cats, collisions with windows and buildings, and climate change. However, there are things we can do to help protect hummingbird populations:

  • Habitat preservation – Protecting flowering meadows, scrublands, and forest edges that provide their breeding and migratory stopover habitat. Preserving natural nectar corridors along migration routes.
  • Pesticide use – Avoiding pesticide use which reduces insect populations that hummingbirds rely on for food. Pesticides can also imperil wildflower species hummingbirds feed from.
  • Keep cats indoors – Outdoor cats kill millions of birds each year, keep pet cats inside to protect hummingbirds and other birds.
  • Reduce collisions – Placing decals on windows or screens over glass corridors to deter hummingbirds from crashing into them. Turn off unneeded outside lights at night.
  • Provide artificial feeders – Supply supplemental nectar in the form of feeders, especially during migration and winter months when flower availability is reduced. Use a 4:1 ratio of water to white granulated sugar only, no red dye.
  • Plant native flowers – Landscape with native plants that provide nectar sources and habitats tailored to hummingbirds native to your region. Time plantings for bloom during migration.
  • Citizen science – Getting involved in hummingbird research, reporting sightings, banding projects, and surveys helps scientists monitor populations and understand threats to hummingbirds.

Attracting Hummingbirds to Your Yard

You can create an inviting habitat for hummingbirds in your own yard by providing their basic needs – food, water, shelter, and nesting spots. Here are some tips:

Plant a variety of nectar-producing flowers – Choose tubed, red flowers with little to no scent preferred by hummingbirds such as bee balm, cardinal flower, trumpet vine, petunias, and native wildflowers. Have flowers blooming spring through fall.

Supplement with feeders – Use feeders to provide additional nectar, especially in late summer when fewer flowers may be in bloom. Use a 4:1 ratio of water to white sugar only, no dyes. Clean feeders every 2-3 days to prevent mold.

Provide a water source – A mister, sprinkler, fountain, or bird bath creates a spot for hummingbirds to bathe and drink. Move water sources away from feeders to avoid contamination.

Don’t use pesticides – Avoid pesticides which may be toxic to hummingbirds or kill the insects they eat. Use plants native to your area which are naturally resistant to pests.

Offer shady spots – Hummingbirds will use trees, large shrubs, trellises, and arbors that offer shelter from heat, rain, and to hide from predators when resting.

Leave dead trees and branches – Dead trees, or snags, provide ideal sites for hummingbirds to build nests in cavities or to perch on exposed branches. Leave brush piles where small insects collect.

Avoid trimming in summer – Delay pruning trees and shrubs until after hummingbirds migrate in the fall so you don’t destroy active nests which are built from late winter through summer.

Provide nest building materials – Supplying hummingbird nesting material helps females construct a nest to lay eggs. Use dog or human hair, wool scraps, spider silk, moss, lichen, and feathers.

Consider a specialized feeder – There are feeders designed just for hummingbird fledglings that provide a place for young to perch and easily access nectar as they learn to feed themselves.

Following these simple tips will create an enticing backyard oasis for hummingbirds to rest and refuel during their migrations or to raise their young in summer. The joy of watching them buzz around flowers and feeders is reward for your efforts.

Celebrating National Hummingbird Day

National Hummingbird Day offers a special opportunity to learn more about these special birds and appreciate the wonder they add to our world. Here are some ways to observe the day:

  • Visit a nature center – Many have hummingbird feeders and plants to attract them so you can observe them up close. Staff may even band and release hummingbirds.
  • Watch a documentary – There are great PBS, National Geographic, and BBC films showcasing hummingbird behaviors, unique traits, and migration journeys. Have a family screening!
  • Tour botanical gardens – Public gardens cultivate vibrant native plants sure to draw hummingbirds. Take a notebook and camera to document all the species you spot.
  • Put up a feeder – Buy or make a simple nectar feeder to hang in your yard, then sit and wait for hummingbirds to find it. Watching them feed up close is fascinating.
  • Plant flowers – Add a few hummingbird favorites to your garden like bee balm, fuchsia, or trumpet vine to provide food sources they’ll flock to all season.
  • Eliminate pesticides – Make your yard pesticide-free to make sure hummingbirds have a healthy habitat full of food and nesting areas.
  • Make sugar water – Boil 1 cup water, stir in 1⁄4 cup white sugar until dissolved, let cool, and fill your feeder. No dyes needed!
  • Read a book – Check out a library book on hummingbirds to learn new facts, get identification tips, and find out how to support conservation.

The key is learning more about these energetic little birds who bring so much wonder of nature right to our doorsteps. Use National Hummingbird Day as motivation to create a haven that helps provide for them all year long.