Hummingbird Saga

October 25th, 2022 by georgann

In early August, Judy, one of my neighbors, called me for help with a Ruby-throated Hummingbird in her garage. 

Ruby-throats are the only breeding hummingbird east of the Mississippi and many of them nest in our neighborhood during the summer.  Around July 4, we experience an increase number of them as the males begin to migrate from areas north of us on their way to the Gulf of Mexico.  From there they cross over the Gulf into Yucatan. You can recognize the males by their bright red throat or gorget, which might look black, gold, brown, or red depending upon how the light strikes the feathers.

By early August, we start getting adult and immature females (with a plain grayish-white gorget) and young males (with spots and streaking on their gorget).  If, by the first week of August, you do not have a feeder out for these birds, you are missing quite a show of territorial fighting, displaying and squeaking.  They will be here through August and September with their numbers diminishing by early October. 

So, Judy catches her exhausted hummingbird, removes some spider webbing from it, gently puts it in a box with a towel and drives it over to me.  He was in trouble.  The poor little immature male just laid in the palm of my hand, head back, eyes closed and barely breathing.  I couldn’t feel a heart beat.  How do you do CPR on something that weighs 4 grams—about what a penny weighs?

Having vast experience with this (OK, maybe 6 other birds), I grabbed one of my hummingbird feeders and aimed this little guy’s beak into the opening for a drink.  It took a minute or two, and a couple of probings, but finally his beak opened and his long tongue stuck out.  We watched his little throat eagerly swallowing the sugar water.  We did this for about two minutes.  His eyes opened, his head stood more erect, and he flexed his wings in the palm of my hand.  Another drink or two and he appeared much more alert.  I could feel his heart beating, which is about 600 times a minute.  More of a buzz than a heart beat.

I told Judy he might try to take off, hovering above my palm a few times as other hummingbirds have done, but this one took off like a rocket.  He shot straight up and landed on a bare branch above us.  We congratulated each other on our success.  In the days to come, I hoped that he was amongst the other Ruby-throats coming to my feeders.

Keep your feeders out for these marvelous birds until the last one disappears in October, but be careful in leaving your garage door open especially if you have anything red that might attract them.  Lisa and Chandler Lewis found that out also in early August.  Chandler caught their bird and released it outside.  Way to go, Chandler.

By the way, the Rufous Hummingbird that came to my feeder from August 12 until December 12, 2007, reappeared in the front of our house at the same feeder on Thursday, August 7, 2008.  He had been previously banded at a feeder in Acworth, GA in December 2006. His numbered band was shining on his right foot, but we are not going to catch him again to read it and make absolutely sure it is the same bird.  Undoubtedly, it is.

This hummingbird breeds primarily in the northwestern United States up to Alaska.  While most of them migrate south into Mexico in the fall, they are also becoming infrequent winter visitors to the southeastern United States.  Come by and watch for him anytime.  His body is orange (rufous) and his gorget is an even brighter orange/red.  He spends his day chasing the Ruby-throats away from his feeder squeaking and chipping loudly.

If you have feeders out, do not fill them with any purchased premixed nectar.  Homemade sugar water is much safer for them.  Four parts of water to one part sugar.  No food coloring.  Bring it to a boil and store it in your refrigerator.  Any type of hummingbird feeder works, but it is fun to have many different styles in your yard.  You will get more birds zapping around you if you have many feeders surrounding your house.  I usually have at least five, but have friends that put out 20 or so.

Birding Adventures, Inc.

Georgann Schmalz


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