Have you seen hummingbirds lately in your garden, on your deck, or elsewhere in the neighborhood? Well, we have, and it’s a treat. It’s like beholding a unicorn or something: How can anything real actually look like that, and move that way?
But enjoy them now, because they’re about to go away. They come to North Carolina in the spring, and start to leave in September. None of them are year-round residents, alas.
They’re all wonderful, and there are a lot of different kinds. Here are some you might see in these parts:
- Ruby-throated — This is the most common species seen in eastern North America. They generally winter in Central America, Mexico, and Florida.
- Black-chinned — Guess how you tell these guys from the ruby-throated ones? You got it. They’ve got a sort of formal look, so you might want to make like Linnaeus and call them Archilochus alexandri. Or not, if you prefer.
- Buff-bellied — These get way colorful. Unfortunately, you’re less likely to see them here. Some sites say you can, but Wikipedia doesn’t agree. Your best bet apparently remains the ruby-throated ones.
What if you want to do more than look? What if you want to help them stoke up for the coming migration? Good idea, but note that they will turn their long, probing little beaks up at the kind of seed-filled feeder that enchants cardinals and wrens. (We actually saw this happen a couple of days ago. Unfortunately, he was gone long before we could whip out the phone to get a picture.)
These little critters go for pure carbs and hydration. They need something as close as possible to the nectar they pull from flowers. “Hummingbirds have the highest metabolism of all vertebrate animals,” so they have to take half their weight in high-octane fuel each day, according to the Audubon Society.
That means sugar water. That’s one part sugar to four parts water.
But be careful. Feeding these busy little guys is a lot more work than putting out seed, if you don’t want to harm or even kill them. Clean the feeder out every day, and replace the sugar water. Otherwise, you’ll be nourishing pathogens. Here are some tips on feeding. And don’t use honey, or add red food-coloring.
Just for fun, let’s close with a little hummingbird-watching music from the late, great Leon Russell, and an incredible National Geographic video showing their blurry-winged flight in slow motion: