Surprising as it may be to some, there are extremely fascinating things in the outdoor world that don’t have to be shot or caught. Well, maybe saying they can be shot with a camera and caught on a photo image would be my out on this one. The rainy weather last week gave me time to think about one of my favorite non-consumptive wildlife species and that’s the pixie-sized hummingbird. They are fascinating creatures and can provide tremendous enjoyment for anyone by simply watching them.
I love their remarkable territorial issues in terms of fending one another off from the feeding station. It’s fascinating how multiple hummingbirds will actually seem to plan an attack to distract the dominant bird while others get in for a quick feed. It’s hard to watch them and not smile, or even laugh aloud, while enjoying the beauty of nature at its best.
A recent rain forced me from the fishing boat to the porch to wait it out, but the shower soon passed.
When the rain stopped, I almost immediately heard the buzzing (or perhaps the high-pitched humming is more appropriate), of the miniscule hummingbirds as they came to the hummingbird feeders placed strategically around the porch.
It’s most interesting to watch them as they feed. They are amazing creatures to begin with; with wing beats so fast you can’t stop it on film, at least not with the camera I used. In fact, it was quite fascinating to watch as one bird in particular seemed to want to be the “boss” and diligently tried to guard the feeder as if the sugar water was all for him. I have yet to determine if it’s a game the hummers play or if it’s serious. Either way, it’s great fun to watch.
As this particular ruby-throated hummingbird hovered nearby, another of the half-dozen hummingbirds around their house would zip in for some quick nourishment, only to be attacked, it seemed, by the “boss.” As he chased one away, one or two more would zip in and get a quick fill of the prepared fluid. Then, they would be chased off in another direction, and another hummer or two would seemingly materialize at the feeder from the opposite direction.
Being a photographer at heart, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to take some photographs of these tiny birds in action. With family and friends watching, I was subjected to laughter while I tried to get the “perfect” hummingbird photograph.
I may not have succeeded in that, but I did get some interesting photos and had a great time in the effort and in simply watching the antics of the hummers. It’s really not difficult to attract hummingbirds and even for the “consumptive’ outdoorsman, an opportunity to just sit and watch these fascinating creatures does provide immense enjoyment.
Most hummingbirds are migrants and visit our area in the warmer seasons. Typically, feeders should be put up much earlier in the year, March or April for our area. The migrating hummingbirds actually begin to arrive in Florida in January and are in the upper Great Lakes area by May. Feeding them can be done even now and if you do so, it may even enhance your odds of having them return to your yard early next season, where you can have feeders waiting on them.
One big misconception about hummingbirds is about taking down the feeder. Many believe that if you don’t take down the feeder the hummers will not know when to migrate. Not true. Hummers are not morons, and the call of Mother Nature overrules your delicious offerings in the feeders. They will leave when the time is right. Actually, you’ll know it’s about to occur because the males will typically begin to migrate a few weeks before the immature hummers and females leave. The migration back south is actually triggered by changing day length or photo-period, not a lack of natural or prepared food. If you quit feeding them too early, they will only have to look for food elsewhere until they leave.
I’ve checked around and there are some do’s and don’ts for feeding hummers. One excellent recipe for making your own nectar is simply one part sugar, four parts water, boil 1-2 minutes, cool and store in refrigerator before using. Several sources say to never use honey or artificial sweeteners as a food source. Honey will ferment quickly and can cause health problems with the hummers and artificial sweeteners have no food value.
Hummingbird feeders can be found and purchased at many stores and you will note that they are generally red in color. That’s for a specific reason: hummers are certainly attracted by the red color but will eat from any color of nectar producing flower. By planting flowers in your yard, you can enhance your odds of attracting and keeping hummers in your neighborhood and specifically in your own backyard.
A few of the plants that are natural attractants for hummers include lantana (a plant we luckily happened to have several of already flowering in our yard), impatiens, hollyhocks, petunias and geraniums. There are many more as well, but these are good choices for our area.
Keep your hummingbird feeders clean and the nectar changed every few days, especially during hot weather. Most hummingbird watchers advise to only fill the feeder about half full because the solution may spoil before they drink it all if you fill it up. It may require a few extra moments of effort on your part, but the rewards of attracting and watching these fascinating creatures is well worth the effort.
While many of us, and I am among the guiltiest, typically focus on the consumptive sports of outdoor recreation, take a moment every now and then to enjoy the other aspects of the outdoor world. There’s more going on out there than you can ever completely appreciate.