Hummingbirds on the move in East Toronto
A streak of red and green followed by the slightest hum of tiny wings beating 55-75 times per second: the beautiful Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) makes its always-memorable presence known to me.
On this particular day the little hummingbird, only 7.5-9cm (3-5 inches) from beak tip to tail tip, appeared to be studying me as much as I him. While I sat perfectly still he made rapid, squeaky chirps as he flew toward me before stopping briefly to hover inches from my face. I’d never seen one this close! Perhaps he was concerned about my presence in his territory? Whatever the cause, I was in utter amazement over this close-encounter of the bird kind. Sadly, well before I was able to consciously appreciate the experience, with a flash like jewels glittering in the sun, he was gone.
While I love my robins, blue jays and all my hawks, there is just something about spotting a hummingbird that has me frantically waving my arms beckoning everyone around me to run over, look, and share in the experience.
A few minutes later he, or one just like him, was back and feeding on one of my many feeders filled with sugar water (1 cup of sugar, 4 cups of water - boiled and stored in fridge). I take my feeders out in early April and put them away at the end of October.
If you’re wondering why you’ve been seeing so many hummingbirds lately, they are starting their winter migration to Central America and Mexico. The males will leave first, followed by the females, and lastly the juveniles in September and October. I always make sure the feeders are full right to the end of October as the last travellers will need all the nectar and protein they can get to make the long trip.
A few facts about the Ruby-throated Hummingbird: as mentioned above, they grow to be 7.5-9 cm. Their average weight is just 1/8 of an ounce, or 3 grams (a typical cell phone weighs 4-5 ounces). The oldest known hummingbird is nine years old, but their average age is seven years old for females, and just five for the males. Perhaps their most unique feature is their wings, which can rotate almost 180 degrees, making the hummingbird the only bird that can fly backwards. They make many sounds, such as a ‘tik, tik, tik, tik, tik’ noise, rapid chirps, and of course the humming sound that comes from their wings. Lastly, hummingbirds need both nectar and protein (from insects and pollen) to survive.
How can you help? Put out hummingbird feeders, especially in the fall as they need double their body weight before migration. Fill the feeders with sugar and water and NEVER use honey, artificial sweeteners, or red food colouring (they promotes bacteria that is harmful to hummingbirds). Hang feeders in the shade and change the food every couple of days. I only fill the feeders with a small amount of sugar water and change them often.
To learn more about the Ruby-throated Hummingbird try visiting the Ontario Hummingbird Project at ontariohummingbirds.ca. You can see maps of the path that the hummingbirds take for migration, learn about the nesting and mating behaviours, and much, much more. You can also input when you see your first and last hummingbird of the season to help the Project make sure the species remains healthy.
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