The Amazing Lives of Hummingbirds: Part 2

Hummingbirds are cool little creatures with amazing capabilities and interesting lives.  In case you missed my first blog on hummingbirds, you can check it out here.  This post will examine the fierce nature of hummingbirds and take a look at a few of the unique species.  Stories will be told, pictures will be shown and battles will be fought.  Are you ready to capture a brief glimpse of hummingbirds with swords battling Golden Eagles in epic sky duels over the jungles of Hawaii?  I sure hope not, because I don’t have any pictures of that.

The Sword-billed Hummingbird has the longest bill in comparison to its size of any bird on earth.  The “sword” can grow up to 5 inches long, which is fairly impressive considering the entire length of the bird from tail tip to bill tip is between 8 and 10 inches!  Scientists aren’t certain what all of the uses of such a large bill might be, but some believe that males might attempt to attract females based on bill size.  The length of their bills does enable them to access nectar in longer flowers.  Of course, Sword-billed Hummingbirds would have difficulty feeding from a feeder, because they must balance their bills so that the weight does not strain their necks!  Sword-billed Hummingbirds can be found in the high elevations of the Andes Mountains of South America.  I’d like to imagine that the males use their swords to fence over females but this has not been documented.

(Sword-billed Hummingbird – www.insightintonature.com)
 (www.birdphotographers.net)

White-tipped Sicklebills are hummingbirds with unusually curved bills.  According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, these birds specialize in feeding on nectar from Heliconia and Centropogon plants.  There are hundreds of different plants within those families but the point is, sicklebills use their curved bill to get nectar from flowers that the average hummingbird could not access.  Unlike most hummingbirds, sicklebills will often perch at the flower they are feeding from.  The range of White-tipped Sicklebills extends from Costa Rica down to the northern edge of Peru.

Eutoxeres aquila

(White-tipped Sicklebill © Dusan Brinkhuizen)

Giant Hummingbirds are monsters in the hummingbird world weighing in at around 20 grams with a length of about 8 inches.  These hummingbirds spend much of their time in open habitats throughout the Andes Mountains. They fly much slower than their smaller counterparts and occasionally throw in quick glide during flight.  Though not as colorful as most hummingbirds, the Giant Hummingbird is still a sight to see.

File:Patagona gigas.jpg

(Giant Hummingbird)

Perhaps the most familiar hummingbird in the U.S. is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.  Found in the eastern range of North America during breeding season, these hummingbirds are very common in parks, gardens and backyards.  Ruby-throated Hummingbirds can easily be attracted to your yard if you set up a hummingbird feeder.  The solution for the feeder involves four parts water per one part sugar.  Be sure to use white sugar as other forms of sugar can be harmful to a hummingbird’s digestive system or result in mold which can be fatal.  Cleaning the feeder about once a week is important as well.  Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are named for the bright red patch on the male’s throat.

Two summers ago, some friends and I set up a hummingbird feeder outside the trailer home we were living for the season.  We had no television but we did have the entertainment of watching hummingbirds battle for feeder supremacy!  It was hilarious to see a hummingbird sipping from the feeder while feverishly looking around for potential rivals.  Sometimes a female would be at the feeder and notice another female.  A fight would ensue and while the the females were busy, a male would quickly come in for some tasty sugar water.  Then the female who was victorious would come back to chase off the male!  After that, another female would arrive and the cycle would continue for hours with as many as six different hummingbirds duking it out.  I’m pretty sure some of them used up all their energy just chasing each other away from the feeder!  Once in a while, two birds would share the food for a short period of time.  Another interesting thing about hummingbirds is that they have great color vision and can see ultraviolet light.  Ruby-throated Hummingbirds seem to favor bright pink, red and orange colors.  Several times a hummingbird would come close to one of my friends who was wearing a bright pink shirt!  I also saw a hummingbird hovering over a red watergun once.  During my time doing point counts in Indiana, I would occasionally record a hummingbird in the woods which was always cool.  Usually I would hear the beating of their wings before I saw them.

Adult maleFemale/ immature type

(Top – Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird © Michael Hogan, Bottom – Female/immature hummingbird © Jason Means)

So how do hummingbirds fly backwards?  You’ll have to wait until part 3 of my blog series on The Amazing Lives of Hummingbirds.  Or you can Google it, but that would ruin the suspense.  There will be more brilliantly . . . stupid word just took me four tries to spell it right.  The first two times I typed in rilliantly and the next two times I accidentally capitalized the B.  Anyway, there will be more brillianty . . argh I hate typing when I’m tired.  THERE WILL BE MORE BRILLIANTLY COLORED HUMMINGBIRDS TO LOOK AT IN MY NEXT BLOG POST!  That’s better.  There may also be an unbelievable story to tell.  May you fight the battles in your life with the ferocity of a hummingbird and may all your sugary dreams come true!

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