Friday, September 11, 2009

Summer Guests

I had guests this summer who stayed for four weeks, and I didn't mind a bit. They came and went at leisure, sometimes flitting to the back porch for less than two minutes. There was some squabbling, but it was amusing not annoying. My only regret was that they didn't stay longer. The visitors? Three ruby-throated hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris).

After seeing hummingbirds in my neighbor's garden during a morning walk, I decided I'd lure them into my own back yard with a feeder of sugar water. A good feeder isn't costly, but buy one that's easy to clean. The formula for sugar water is simple: just boil one part sugar and four parts water for a couple of minutes until the sugar is dissolved. Allow to cool before pouring into the feeder. I make a small amount that lasts just a couple of days so that I'm more apt to clean the feeder and replace the water solution often.

At first I hung the feeder from a shepherd's hook in the back yard, close to the trees where they might easily find it. Within a day, they were hooked. Once I had won them over, I moved the feeder to a hook on the back porch railing, hoping to get a closer view from our kitchen. The plan worked and we were rewarded with frequent daily visits by one ruby-throated male and two females who spent most of the time emitting high-pitched "chip, chip!" sounds and dive bombing each other.

The nice thing about hummingbirds is that they quickly become accustomed to human presence and will allow you to remain close by. There are even tiny feeder tubes for hand-feeding.

The flight of these tiny acrobats is mesmerizing to watch. At just 3-3.5 inches and weighing about 3 grams, they hover, twist and turn, beating their wings at about 52 times per second! In slow motion video, you can actually see that the hummingbird's wings are moving back and forth in a figure-8 motion, not up and down. As they got used to us sitting on the porch, our curious little guests would fly near our heads, their wings buzzing furiously.

Here are three photos of one of the females. Unlike the male, she has no red throat patch. Females are also larger than males. They alternated visits to the feeder.


In the video below, the colorful male is feeding and at one point turns and approaches to take a good look at the odd creature trying to steady the camera. Notice at the end of the video that his feeding session ends abruptly when he's attacked from above by one of the females.

Male hummingbirds arrive at their summer destinations and depart for their winter homes before the females do. This male hummingbird left for southern climes about two weeks ago. We have spied one female, however, just this past week, feeding from flowers in the garden. Then her visits to the feeder became less frequent. On cool evenings she would stay at the feeder longer and even perch on the top of the pole, sometimes zipping off for a moment to catch a passing insect, then returning to take her post.

I haven't seen her in two days. I suspect that she is headed on her long migration as well.

For more information about hummingbirds and migration in general including citizen science projects, see A great way to attract hummingbirds is by creating a garden. See a list of hummingbird friendly plants at


  1. That video is really cool.

  2. The photos and video are amazing, Cecilia! I learn so much from your posts! We saw hummingbirds at our porch flowers here in Maine. Even marigolds. I always thought the flowers had to be trumpet-like to attract hummingbirds.

  3. Lucky you! They like trumpet or tube-shaped flowers, but hummies are especially attracted to brightly colored flowers.

  4. Oh, what wondrous guests they are! You mentioned them squabbling a bit, and we have to admit that that's one of the funnest parts for us -- watching them dart at each other with almost blinding speed and then chase each other through the air -- just like in the end of the video! What a wild ride that must be!
    Thanks for the great pics and video =)