by Marjorie Rachlin
It’s time to get your hummingbird feeder out. The ruby-throated hummingbirds returned to Forest Hills from Central America in early May. A feeder with sugar water will give you a close look at this tiny, 11-ounce bird.
An adult male ruby-throated hummingbird, as its name suggests, has a lovely iridescent red throat. The female has a white throat. Both are a shimmering green on the back. This is the only hummingbird species native to the East Coast, although there a number of other species in the western U.S.
My feeder hangs from a tree branch, about 12 feet from the ground. I got it at the Audubon shop, but they are widely available. Fill the feeder with sugar water – dissolve 1/4 cup ordinary white sugar in one cup hot water. Never use honey or other sugar.
You may be able to find a way to hang the feeder right outside a window, which makes for exciting viewing. This video shows how hummingbirds feed:
You can learn how other birds behave at the feeder by reading my article about their table manners.
After a few days, a ruby-throated hummingbird will find your feeder, and he/she may put it on its ”trap-line.” Many hummingbirds have a route they follow each day (just like a hunter checks his traps). This route changes some as flowers come and go, but it also includes feeders. They prefer trumpet-shaped flowers that are red or orange, but right now one comes regularly to a yellow honeysuckle in my yard.
Keep It Clean
A feeder has to be emptied and cleaned very four or five days, because the sugar water can ferment. I use soap and water, plus a little Clorox if there’s mold.
If you have flowers and a sunny yard, a hummingbird may “hang out,” and you’ll notice one perched quietly in the garden or a tree. Nectar (sugar) gives hummingbirds the energy for those rapid wing beats (50 per second), but nectar has to be digested, so they spend almost 75 percent of their time sitting.
They need protein too, so they hunt insects and spiders. They are aerial hunters – the bird finds a tree branch or fence with a good view, then he or she suddenly darts forth to grab an insect on the wing. This is flycatcher behavior (like phoebes). In bird lingo it is called “hawking.”
The ruby-throated hummingbird does not sing, but makes a sharp little clicking sound when annoyed. This may be aimed at you, but often it is directed at another hummingbird to warn that bird off. A hummingbird will defend its feeder from others, although there really seems enough sugar water for all.
A feeder costs about $15 – get one and enjoy the sights. Let me know what you see.
Want to learn more about hummingbirds? This documentary seems to cover everything!