|Female Ruby-throated hummer at HNWR, by Dick Malnory|
The Turk’s Cap is just coming into bloom in the garden adjacent to the Visitor Center at Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, offering the hungry hummingbirds an alternative to the nectar feeders there. During the summer, the volunteers in the Visitor Center have had the added job duty of making nectar and keeping the feeders filled – the hummers have been consuming approximately a quart daily recently.
The Birds of Texas Field Guide (StanTekiela) points out that the Ruby-throated Hummingbird is the smallest bird in our state of Texas. According to Cornell, the Ruby-throated, which have been frequenting the garden at the Refuge, are eastern North America’s only breeding hummingbird.
Here are some “Cool Facts” about the Ruby-throated from Cornell Lab of Ornithology's All About Birds:
· The Ruby-throated Hummingbird beats its wings about 53 times a second.
· The extremely short legs of the Ruby-throated Hummingbird prevent it from walking or hopping, allowing it to only shuffle along a perch. However, it can scratch its head and neck by raising its foot up and over its wing.
· Ruby-throated Hummingbirds prefer to feed on red or orange flowers (though it's not necessary to color the sugar water you put in a hummingbird feeder). Like many birds, hummingbirds have good color vision and can see into the ultraviolet spectrum, which humans can’t see.
· The oldest known Ruby-throated Hummingbird was 9 years 1 month old.
From Birds of Texas we find that the female Ruby-throated builds a tiny cup shaped nest with plant material and spider webs, camouflaging it with lichen; she may have 1- 2 broods a year, with 2 white eggs. From Cornell we learn that they usually build their nest on a branch of a deciduous or coniferous tree; however, these birds, accustomed to human habitation, have been known to nest on loops of chain, wire, and extension cords. Male Ruby-throated Hummingbirds don’t stick around long. Pairs are together long enough for courtship and mating – just a matter of days to weeks. Then he’s off on his own, and may begin migration by early August.
A medium to long-distance migrant, according to Cornell, most Ruby-throated Hummingbirds spend the winter in Central America, and most get there by flying across the Gulf of Mexico. Some birds stay in North America along the Gulf Coast, parts of the southern Atlantic coast, and at the tip of Florida; these are usually birds from farther north rather than birds that spent the summer there.
Enjoy them while you can, fall is around the corner.