The spectacle of spring and the arrival of the migratory birds make for a miraculous time in Iceland, where I was born and raised. Here in the Florida Panhandle there is really no winter, comparatively. However, there is a distinct spring. It is spring when the migratory birds travel through to destinations further north (robins, orioles, etc.), and the ruby throated hummers arrive and make their presence known. Most are migrating through, but some take up residence in my yard. Then in the fall the hummers migrate south to Central America. Their migratory routes can be along the coast west to Texas and then south through Mexico to reach Central America. They can also cross the Gulf of Mexico, and that is quite a feat because these small birds cannot land on water. They can travel via the Florida peninsula to Cuba, and then use the Caribbean islands to reach South America.
So, what is so special about these birds? First off they are so tiny – 3.75” long and weigh in at 0.11oz (9.5cm – 3.2g). Then there is the physiology. Their resting heart rate is 500 bpm, increasing to a whopping 1200 bpm when flying. Then there is the wing speed – the hummer can beat the wings 50-200times per second! The birds can hover in the air, ascend or descend straight up and down from that position, and fly backwards. To be able to accomplish that their brain has grown to about 4% of their weight, the largest of the bird brains, based on percent of body weight (human brains are a paltry 2%). For this rapid metabolism they need lots of energy. I take advantage of that and have feeders with a sugar solution ready, hung from the pergola from late March onward.
Then I can sit back and enjoy the birds and sometimes I manage to take a photo of them that is in focus. To freeze them in the picture you need insanely fast shutter speeds, for instance, the featured image was shot at 1/3200 of a second and still one wing is blurry. They also can slow down their metabolism at night and enter into a state of torpor just to awaken the next morning for another day, like waking up from the dead. These pictures are of a male (the females are very similar without the red patch). When a male has found the feeders, he tries to defend them from all other males. Females get to drink, and I smell an ulterior motive.
Here I managed to get a picture of the bird with the tongue sticking out. Their tongue is very long, and they use it as a micro-pump to get the nectar.
The coloring of their feathers and the red throat are based on the iridescence of the feathers. Depending on the sunlight the color can be striking. And generally, the hummingbirds have an absolutely breathtaking display of colors, depending on the angle of light and the iridescence of the feathers. The bird seen perched on my fly rod has a commanding view of “his” feeders which he will defend from other males.
In these times of the plague I find it reassuring that there is a lot to cherish and be in awe of in nature around us that goes about its business, regardless of our worries. The hummers are certainly a booster to the daily dose of antidepressants. I certainly love those wonderful birds.
English consultant: My good retired neighbor Joe