Wild Wanderings: Humming Into Spring

Photo | Orietta C. Estrada The ruby-throated hummingbird breeds in Maryland each summer.

Photo | Orietta C. Estrada
The ruby-throated hummingbird breeds in Maryland each summer.

There are over 330 different species of hummingbird in the world. We are lucky to have one species that breeds in Maryland each summer—the ruby-throated hummingbird. A hummingbird’s wings beat so fast that they make an audible hum as the bird zips through the air. It almost sounds like the buzz of a bee, but deeper and more resonant. The ruby-throated hummingbird gets its name from the ruby-colored patch of feathers located on its throat, or gorget.

Even though they are the only hummer that breeds in our state, we sometimes have an occasional vagrant. Some of these birds make incredible journeys to their breeding grounds each year.

Our local species makes a trip along, and across, the Gulf of Mexico, all the way up to Maryland and other parts of North America. The males are the first to arrive. This allows them time to find a territory to defend and prepare to attract a mate. Females arrive soon after. If a male is able to court a female, they mate, then part. They do not form pair-bonds. The female builds the nest, then raises the young, all on her own. She constructs a small nest out of moss and other minute materials, using spider webs to tack it together. She will lay a clutch of two teeny, tiny eggs that will hatch in just a couple of weeks.

Hummingbirds eat insects and drink nectar (which is made up of sugars). This means that they will also lap up sugar water from a hummingbird feeder.

Making nectar at home is easy. All it takes is sugar and water; therefore, products that contain dyes or coloring additives are not necessary. Red coloring, or any coloring, is not beneficial to hummingbirds, so keep it simple by using the following recipe: one part sugar to four parts water. Stir until dissolved. To save time during the week, I make a liter of sugar water at a time and refrigerate it. This makes it easy to top off the feeders if there’s a lot of winged traffic, or if the liquid evaporates.

There are many different types of hummingbird feeders available. The best ones, in my opinion, are simple. Feeders with a lot of ridges and parts are harder to clean and prone to build up and mold. My suggestion is to try out a couple of styles and find what works for you.

Regardless of the style you choose, be sure to purchase an ant moat with your feeder. An ant moat is an attachment that you hang your feeder from. Ants love sugar water too and the attachment prevents them from invading.

It’s important to protect the birds that visit your home by keeping feeders clean and discouraging predators. I empty and clean my hummingbird feeders every three to four days. Cleaning feeders regularly helps prevent the spread of disease. When I notice a predator, such as a praying mantis or an outdoor cat, I remove the feeder to discourage hunting. It’s safer for the bird to imbibe elsewhere because outdoor cats kill birds, as do mantises.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds will be arriving soon, so be sure to protect, clean and restock your feeders. I hang up my hummingbird feeders mid-March, which is a little early, but I do this in case an early migrant shows up. You never know, so it’s best to be prepared!

Have a question about birds or wildlife in the area? Email orietta@towncourier.com.