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Learn about Hummingbirds

Learn about Hummingbirds

You've probably heard of the Birdman of Alcatraz? Well, what you many not know is that Massachusetts has their own "Birdman," Mike O'Connor, owner of the Bird Watcher's General Store, writes the popular column "Ask the Bird Folks," for The Cape Codder newspaper.

Below is a complilation of several of his articles, with links to the orginal.

My favorite bird after the Cardinal is a Hummingbird. These little birds are the strangest little guys. (Well, they're not all guys.)

The first thing you need to know about hummingbirds is that they love to fight each other. They really don't like each other, I will explain later. Don't worry about them fighting, that's what they live for.

Hummingbirds are so small that almost every creature on earth can beat them up. Frogs, spiders, fish, dragonflies, and even a praying mantis have all made a meal out of hummingbirds. In order to push something around, they pick on each other.

Why Do Hummingbirds Fight?

Most birds only defend a breeding territory but hummingbirds are one of the few birds that will defend a food source. Almost anywhere a hummer finds food it is ready to fight to defend it, even along its migration route to Central America.

However, since it only weights a zillionth of an ounce, the only thing it can attack, without being laughed at, is another hummingbird and an occasional ladybug. If the fighting bothers you still, you could try talking to them and perhaps suggest some anger management classes.

You can also put up a second feeder, far away from the first. This usually helps stop the fighting. As the fall and colder temperatures arrive, you may only have young hummers and females at your feeders. The reason you don't have any adult males, is that most of them have headed out already. Male hummingbirds aren't very good parents and as soon as the kids start yelling, they are outta there. (I told you they didn't like each other.) The females stay a few weeks longer to raise the kids and show them how to find food. [Read more...]

Hummingbird Migration

Hummingbird migration is different than the migration of most other birds. There are no massive flocks of hummingbirds gathering on the power lines, like swarms of blackbirds descending into the marshes, or V's of flying geese streaming across the fall sky.

Hummingbirds migrate alone. Again, they don't like each other. They don't need a large flock of other hummers telling each other when to stop for food. They are plenty streetwise and can handle themselves. The other thing is that these independent birds don't even head south at the same time. Some go early, some go later. Their migration is drawn out over several months.

I have said several times that hummers don't like each other. Here is more proof. Unlike most birds, hummers don't pair up as long term couples.

Learn about Hummingbirds

The male and female hook up briefly to mate and then go their separate ways. The female builds the nest, lays the eggs (you may have already guessed that part), sits on the eggs, then hatches and raises the entire brood all by herself. The only thing the male does is mate and that's it. Once his "work" is done and all the females are busy tending the nests, the males get bored and start thinking about heading back down south, (probably to rest). I can see them sitting by the pool and sipping drinks with little umbrellas in them.

People ask, if I leave my feeder out in winter, will the hummers not migrate? Migratory instincts are much too strong to be swayed by a few posies or a feeder. Your feeder will not stop a bird from going south.

Newspapers every year love to print pictures of confused hummingbirds, usually in the month of December. The reality is that the hummingbird did migrate, but it went the wrong way. Occasionally, birds get their brain wires crossed and like some people, they drive down the wrong street. You can leave your hummingbird feeder out all year if you want. It won't interfere with bird migration.

However, it will sometimes help keep a lost bird alive, at least for a while. Even the onset of cold weather won't force a bird that has strayed to move on; eventually, it will have to deal with the unforgiving winter. Sadly, this is a rather harsh way of talk the misfits out of the gene pool. [Read more...]

Hummingbird Beaks

A Hummingbird's beak is not some kind of sucking straw. Hummingbirds are real birds, and they have everything that a robin or cardinal has, including feet, legs, wings, and a beak that acts and works like any other bird's beak. Perhaps some have mixed up Hummingbirds with elephants and its trunk. I can see how you might get confused.

Why Don't Woodpeckers Get Headaches: And Other Answers to Bird Questions You Know You Want to Ask

Much of a hummingbird's diet is composed of insects. They obtain these insects by using their superior flying skills, along with their beak and tongue, to snag insects out of the air. As for sipping nectar from flowers, their beak has little to do with it. It is the hummingbird's extremely long tongue that does most of the work. A hummingbird's tongue is split at the end, with tiny hair-like fibers that help gather nectar from flowers. The tongue features extra folds that are a bit brushy, which makes it easier to lap up nectar. A hummingbird's tongue can lap at a rate of thirteen times per second, just like our neighbor's black lab.

Even though a hummingbird's beak isn't the key feature in gathering nectar, the beak is essential for grooming and preening. Feathers are the birds' only protection from the elements and it is critical that they keep them neat and clean. They use their long beaks to regularly clean off dirt and parasites, while also adding protective oil to their feathers.

And let's not forget those nest-building chores. The hummer's beak is the only tool it has to build its nest. The female gathers the material and constructs the nest using nothing more than her beak. Their beaks do open and close. Many people think that they can't open their beaks. They can, and they really do. If the beak weren't able to open, there would be no way for the mother to feed the baby birds. The adult bird shoves insects down the wide-open gape of a hungry baby. [Read more...]

As for speed, the hummers are one of the fastest birds God has made and they can fly long distances. They migrate long distances to Central America. Many have reported seeing hummingbirds flying along side their cars going 70 mph. One person said that a hummingbird had flown up along side the car going 70 and looked in the window as it flew. It saw what it wanted to see and darted off ahead of the car and was gone.


Mike O'Connor

About the Author

Mike O'Connor, owner of Bird Watcher's General Store, writes the popular column, Ask the Bird Folks, for The Cape Codder newspaper. Every week Mike tries to answer some of life's most challenging questions. You know, bird questions.

If you are ever in the neighborhood be sure to stop in and and say hello!

If you have a question for the bird experts, please e-mail Mike or call (508) 255-6974.

Mike O'Connor,
Bird Watcher's General Store
36 Route 6A
Orleans, MA 02653

The article above is a compliation of Hummingbird articles originally published by the Bird Watcher's General Store and is printed here with permission.

A Collection of Hummingbird Articles from the Bird Watcher's General Store

Additional Hummingbird Information

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