Hummingbirds Are Back

Hummingbirds Are Back


Carolyn Gritzmaker Indian Trail Master Naturalist

Now is the time to put out your hummingbird feeders, since these little jewel-like birds are returning to our area. Only last week we saw a black-chinned hummingbird at the coral honeysuckle vine.

Two species of hummers spend the spring and summer months with us. In a sense, east meets west here, as the ruby-throat(Archilochus colubris) is an eastern bird and the black-chinned(Archilochus alexandri) is western. The adult male of both species look somewhat similar at first. But when the light hits them just right their throat features, which look black in poor light, seem to glow with color.

The adult male ruby throated hummingbird is about 3 ¾ inches long and has a radiant ruby throat. His crown and back are metallic green and he has a distinctive dark forked tail. The female also has a green crown and back, but she lacks the red throat and her tail is rounded with white tips on the feathers.

The adult male black-chinned hummingbird is about 3 ½ inches long. He has a dark head and black chin and a gleaming purple band above a white collar and chest. He, too, has a metallic green back, but his tail is only slightly forked. The female black-chinned is so similar to the female ruby-throat that it is almost impossible to tell them apart in the field.

Besides dining on flower nectar and the “fast food” feeders we put up for them, hummingbirds also eat a considerable number of small insects. These are chiefly those insects that come to the flowers the hummingbirds visit, but also some caught in flight.

The flight of hummingbirds is very impressive and more like that of an insect than a bird. Their wings move so rapidly as to seem like a soft blur on either side of the bird’s body. They can hover so steadily as to appear fixed in space, as though sitting on an invisible perch. The can turn at any angle quickly and, just as suddenly, dart off and away at top speed. Hummingbirds can fly forward, backward, sideways and hover. The only flight maneuver they cannot perform is to soar on motionless wings.

Watch for these little jewels of the bird world as they dart around Ellis and Navarro counties from late March to October.

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