What’s the Word, Hummingbird?
By Clay White and Tim Sebesta
The early Spanish explorers to the new world called them Joyas Volardores or flying jewels.
Q.How many species of hummingbirds are there in the Western Hemisphere?
A. Hummingbirds are part of the Trochilidae family found only in the Americas. They are
unknown in the Eastern Hemisphere. With 343 species, hummingbirds make up the
Western Hemisphere's second largest family of birds.
Q. What is a hummingbird’s pulse?
A. Hummingbirds require lots of energy. They have the fastest wing beats of any bird and
their hearts beat up to 1,260 beats per minute.
Q. Do hummingbirds walk?
A. Hummingbirds are built for flight. Hummingbirds are little more than flight muscles
covered with feathers. 30% of a hummingbird's weight consists of flight muscles.
Q. How fast do hummingbirds fly?
A. A hummingbird's flight speed can average 25-30 mph, and can dive up to 60 mph.
Q. Do hummingbirds feed on nectar alone?
A. Hummingbirds may visit 1,000 flower per day, but for protein, hummingbirds eat spiders
and catch gnats from mid-air. They will pull insects out of spider webs including the spider
itself. Sapsucker holes are a double treat, netting both insects and sap.
Q. How smart is a hummingbird?
A. Well no one knows for sure, but the hummingbird's tiny brain, 4.2% of its body weight, is
proportionately the largest in the bird world.
Q. How far do hummingbirds migrate?
A. Many ruby-throats make a 2,000 mile journey between Canada and Panama. The trip
includes a non-stop, 500 mile flight over the Gulf of Mexico.
Q. Are hummingbirds conservatives?
A. Hummingbirds have a unique way of keeping warm or conserving their energy - at night,
or any time they cannot get enough food to fuel themselves - they go into torpor - a state
in which their metabolic rate is only one-fifteenth that of normal sleep.
Q. Are hummingbirds monogamous?
A. Hummingbirds do not mate for life - the female raises the young on her own. The male
hummingbird is not involved with raising the young. The female does all the work of
raising her young alone!
Q. How long do hummingbirds live?
A. Hummingbirds can live a decade or more in the wild.
Q. Do hummingbirds depend on flowering plants, or do flowering plants depend on the
A. Both, plants depend on the hummingbird for pollination. Their blossoms project into the
open, where the bird won't get caught in foliage. Without pollination, plants don’t produce
Hummingbirds feed through a long, tube-like tongue that darts into the flower's corolla for nectar.
The tongue, shaped like a "W", uses capillary action to absorb the nectar much like a paper towel
absorbs water. The tongue's brushy tip also traps insects on their own quest for nectar.
Hummingbirds are very territorial and will aggressively protect nectar sources especially when
migrating. It is important to have several feeders, out of sight of each other, to prevent one
hummingbird from dominating your feeders.
A hummingbird can rotate each of its wings in a circle, allowing them to be the only bird which
can fly forwards, backwards, up, down, sideways or sit in sheer space. To hover, hummingbirds
move their wings forward and backward in a repeated figure eight, much like the arms of a swimmer
treading water. Hummingbirds can move instantaneously in any direction, start from its perch at full
speed, and doesn't necessarily slow up to land. Hummingbirds can even fly short distances upside
down, a trick rollover they employ when being attacked by another bird.
Hummingbirds do not make good songbirds. Most of them manage no more than a few mouse-
like chirps, squeaks and twitters, though they deliver them dramatically with quick turns of the head.
Hummingbirds do make distinctive "zinging" noises with their wings.
The Spanish names for Hummingbirds are very descriptive of their behavior:
Chupaflor - which means flower-sucker
Picaflor - which means flower nibbler
As well as the more romantic Portuguese Beija-flor or Flower-kisser.
Hummingbirds have weak feet and are more at ease using their wings even to shift in the nest or
on a perch.
Most common hummer in Southeast Texas
Most abundant mid-July through October, and March through mid-May
Second most common hummer in NW Houston area
Arrive from the west in October and remain in low numbers through May
Second most common hummer in SE Texas.
Relatively uncommon from October through February
Very rare visitor of the coastal areas
Appear in late fall and may remain through early spring
When To Put Up Hummingbird Feeder
Put feeder out a few days before you expect to see any hummingbirds (early March and mid-July
to early August)
The best way to get a good idea when your hummingbirds will be arriving in your particular area
is to get on the Internet and go to the Humming bird Migration Map at
Each year as people report their first sightings of hummingbirds, these sightings are plotted on
the hummingbird migration map along with the date. As the map is continually updated, you can
observe the northward migration of the hummingbirds and get a good idea when to expect them to
start passing through your area so you will know exactly when to put out your hummingbird feeder.
The best feeder - easiest for you to use.
Changing the nectar regularly, especially during periods of hot weather, and proper cleanliness of
the feeder, is an important factor in attracting and maintaining the health of the hummingbirds.
Basin-type feeders to be a lot easier to clean than the inverted-bottle style feeders. The bottle style
feeders will have a bottle-like container that will screw into the base of the feeder. These bases will
usually be made of one piece and will have areas on the inside that aren't visible from the outside.
You will need some small brushes to thoroughly clean them.
Basin-style feeders that resemble a saucer-like container with a lid, will come apart in the middle
giving you full access to the inside and no hidden surfaces that will be hard to clean.
There's no need to add red food coloring.
1 part white sugar to 4 parts water. This 1 to 4 ratio will closely match that found in actual flower
Start by stirring the sugar into the water while bringing the mixture to a boil over low heat.
Boiling the solution is important as it helps remove chlorine from the water and kills mold and yeast
spores that might be in the sugar.
Boil the mixture for two minutes and let cool. Do not boil any longer than 2 minutes or you will
boil away too much of the water and change the ratio of sugar to water.
Once the Hummingbird food is cool you can add it to your feeder and store any excess nectar in
the refrigerator (for 7 - 8 days) for use at a later date.
It is not necessary to completely fill your feeder.
Cleaning & Maintaining Your Feeder
Mold and bacteria growth in the nectar, as well as fermentation caused by yeasts can be harmful to
Change the nectar often and clean the feeder each time you change the nectar.
If the nectar is kept fresh, simply washing the feeder out with hot water should be enough.
Add 1/4 cup of bleach to 1 gallon of water and soak your feeder for an hour or so. Use a bottle
brush to clean the feeder and rinse thoroughly with running water to remove all traces of the bleach
so as to not harm the hummingbirds. Cleaning the hummingbird feeder once a month with this
bleach solution will help maintain the cleanliness of your feeder.
If the temperatures are in the 70s change every 5 or 6 days, if in the 80s change every 3 or 4 days,
if in the 90's change every 1 or 2 days.
That Feeder is Mine!!!!!
Use several feeders and place them in different locations where a single bird can't perch and
watch all the feeders at the same time.
Place feeders on opposite sides of the house or where vegetation will hide one feeder from
Using a drip less feeder. Bottle-type feeders have a tendency to drip. Basin or saucer type feeders
are designed so that they are less likely to drip.
Ant guard - barrier that's placed between the ants and the hummingbird nectar.
Ant Moat - using the plastic cap from a spray can. Punch or drill a hole in the cap to run the
feeder hanger wire through, then use hot glue or silicone sealant to seal the hole and make the lid
water proof so you can fill it with water.
Controlling Bees and Wasps
Moving the feeder or try taking the feeder down for a day.
Give the insects their own feeder (use 1 part sugar to 3 parts water.
Basin or saucer-type Hummingbird feeder. (drip proof & lower nectar level will be lower and
out of reach to the insects but not the hummingbirds with their long tongues.
When to Take Down Hummingbird Feeder
A good guideline to use is to leave your hummingbird feeder up for about 2 weeks after your
hummingbirds have left for the season. This will provide nectar for any hummingbirds that might
have gotten a late start on their southward migration due to illness, injury or other reasons. If you go
2 weeks without seeing a hummingbird in September or October, when Hummingbird migration
occurs across most of the United States, you can go ahead and take down your feeder until next
As the days get shorter, this decrease in the amount of daylight will trigger hormonal changes in
the hummingbird that will cause them to migrate southward. So leaving your feeder up longer at the
end of the season will not cause them to hang around longer than they should.
Attracting Hummingbirds with Flowers
Place some of their favorite flowers (especially red tubular) close to your feeder.
Humming birds seem to like flowers that are tubular in shape and red in color (Hibiscus, Shrimp
plant ,Turks cap, Salvia).
Perennials (beardtongue (Penstemon cardinalis), beebalm (Monarda didyma), cardinal flower
(Lobelia cardinalis) perennial, columbine (Aquilegia) perennial, coralbells (Heuchera sanguinea) perennial,
delphinium (Delphinium) perennial, red-hot-poker (Kniphofia uvaria) perennial, lupine (Lupinus)
perennial, nasturtium (Tropaedum majus), petunia (Petunia x hybrida) perennial/annual
Shrubs (butterfly bush (Buddleia daviddi) bush, Turk's Cap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. Drummondii))
(butterfly (Malvaviscus Drummondii
Vines (trumpet vine (Campis radicans) vine, trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)
Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica)
Annuals (salvia (Salvia splendens), tobacco plants (Nicotiana), petunia (Petunia x hybrida)