Wednesday, 20 May 2009


"The eye of the understanding is like the eye of the sense; for as you may see great objects through small crannies or holes, so you may see great axioms of nature through small and contemptible instances. "
~~Francis Bacon, essayist, philosopher, and statesman (1561-1626)

As I sit indoors, playing on my laptop, I could see a food fight at the lakeshore. The ducks are continually in a battle over territory. The geese seem to have gone off to hatch goslings.

After a week with the hummingbird feeder up, food fights have begun on our deck.

My late mother fed the hummingbirds at the house every summer since 1960, and they knew their place in her life. When my mother lay ill and dying, these green and ruby-throated fairies would come to the window, peer in and complain bitterly about the lack of food. She was too ill to make it and I was quite depressed and burdened with caregiving tasks.

Eventually, I got my act together and managed to dust off and resurrect the feeder, if not my mother. (Who always told everyone she was 'fine', and would soon be back to normal.)

To that end, I have been faithful about the feeder. I know my mom is watching over me! I noticed a hummingbird out last week, it was checking at the meagre rations of flowers, due to our cold temperatures. Making up the recipe; it barely cooled as I filled it anxiously. (See recipe below.) After being out 20 minutes, the first bird came over.

The food fights began. The territorial males began to fight for a position at the feeder. They swing like a pendulum, back and forth, then they dive at each other like fighter pilots: sleek, speedy and hot to get into battle. You can see one on the left, beginning his dive.

The photos were the best I could do with their speed and I only had one black fly bite from the experience! I was anxious for a good photo, and grateful for the visitors.

Here is a video of hummingbird courtship. A what to do if they get sick.(Other than do no harm!)

Facts: Ruby-throated hummingbird
  • 60 - 80 wing beats per second
  • must feed every 10 - 5 minutes
  • weighs about 3 grams
  • measures about 9 cm (3 1/2")
  • Males have a red throat
  • A small bird of the Trochilidae family
  • Round in S. Canada to the Gulf States
  • Winters in Mexico & Central America
  • Males fly back and forth like a pendulum in an arc,
  • Double their weight in preparation for migration.
  • Attracted by bee balm, hollyhock, hibiscus, trumpet honeysuckle, clematis, impatiens, phlox and fuchsias; aphids, small insects, spiders.
  • As she builds her nest, over a week, and lines it with soft materials.
  • the female makes 150 trips for materials: twigs, grass, feathers, spider webs, pieces of lichen
  • She usually lays two eggs, which incubate 12 - 20 days.
  • They are fed pre-digested food.
  • After two weeks they can be left alone over night.
  • After 17 days, the hen feeds them, but leaves them still hungry.
  • The hen flies above them, with bits of food, to encourage them to become more independent. (Rather like teaching a kid to drive the car!)
Hummingbird Nectar Recipe
  • 1 part sugar/4 parts water
  • Boil the mixture for 5 minutes to kill bacteria
  • Thoroughly clean the feeder by rinsing with one part white vinegar to four parts water.
  • Do this weekly after the feeder is up and going, especially in hot weather.
  • Check to see if the nectar is cloudy, which could mean (deadly) bacteria.
  • Let cool and store excess in refrigerator until ready to use.
  • If the feeder is dirty, add a few grains of dry rice to the vinegar solution to help scrub it clean, as an abrasive.
  • Rinse out the vinegar wash by rinsing three times with clear, warm water before refilling with sugar solution.
  • Do not add food coloring, honey (which ferments), or artificial sweetener, which has no nutritional value.
National Audubon Society brochure (PDF)


Jain said...

Neat to get two birds in one shot! Lots of good info, nice post!

abb said...

I am so envious! I've had a feeder up for several weeks now. ONE male whizzed by and didn't even give it a second glance. I can dream, though.

Jenn Jilks said...

Patience, Tsannie! Mine have been fed for many years, by many folks around here. It's a culture!

Mary said...

Nice hummer shots! I won't see them much until later in the summer. Thanks for visiting my blog.

Leenie said...

Amazing shots of the hummers! Also enjoyed your link to your merganser and muskrat photos. Very fun! I've never seen a muskrat fighting over food with geese. Thanks for the pics!

George said...

You got some great pictures of the hummingbirds. We're still waiting for them to take notice of our feeders.

Mary said...

Thanks for this good information. I don't understand why they design so many hummingbir feeders so that they are difficult to clean when it is so important.