It's Time for Hummingbirds in SW Georgia

By Phil Hardy


I have a confession; I enjoy watching hummingbirds. Chances are that you do too. So what makes the smallest of all the birds, these little jewels of the avian world, so endearing to us? Is it their size? Their colors and beauty? Could it be the fact that they are the only bird that can fly upside down, forwards and backwards or in a spiral as well as hover? Whatever the reason you can bet they are fun to watch in your garden or at a feeder.


The only species that breeds in Georgia, as well as east of the Rockies, is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. If you have a hummer at your house right now chances are somewhere around 100% that it is a Ruby-throated. The name is derived from the red gorget, the throat area under the male's beak. The female Ruby-throated lacks the red throat as do immature males. As in most bird species the male hummingbird is more colorful than the female.
During August our hummingbird numbers peak as the adult birds are here as well as this years hatch birds. If you have flowers or a feeder at your house chances are good that you see lots of hummingbirds at the present time. But why are they always chasing each other and fighting you may ask?


In addition to consuming small flying insects a hummingbird's beak is specially adapted for feeding on nectar in flower blooms. In order to do so they must hover, in mid-air, over the bloom and insert their beak into the flower. Their straw-like tongue licks up the nectar in the flower. While in flight a hummingbirds heart rate can reach 1,260 beats/minute with respiration at 250 breaths/minute. Those numbers would get any cardiologist's attention were it not for the fact that this is perfectly normal for this bird. So with that kind of metabolism it is absolutely essential that these birds feed often to sustain life!
When a hummingbird finds a patch of flowers or a sugar-water feeder it means FOOD. Food means life. So the bird defends that source of food as if his life depends on it. Come to think of it, it does. When a trespasser approaches a feeder or flower another hummingbird might just fly towards it to chase it away as if to say, "This is my area to feed. Get away!"
This might be a good time to review a few hummingbird feeding tips.
1. Mix your own sugar water solution: 4 parts water to one part sugar. There is no need to boil the water.
2. Do NOT put food coloring in the solution. Studies have shown the dyes in food coloring are unhealthy for the birds. The red color of the feeder is all that is needed to attract the birds.
3. Never use honey or any sugar substitutes. Just plain, granulated sugar is all that should be used.
4. Keep feeders clean. Wash them thoroughly, inside and out, each time you refill. Clean all mildew from the feeder. You can buy a small brush to clean the ports with.
5. Don't put out more sugar water than your birds can consume before the solution goes bad. Remember hot, humid weather coupled with sugar water is a recipe for mildew to thrive.
6. In August and September cluster your feeders near each other. This should discourage a bully hummingbird from trying to monopolize all of them. Hopefully he, or she, will tire out from chasing the other birds away and allow groups of hummers to feed alongside each other.
Ruby-throated Hummingbird facts:
>They are the only hummingbird to breed in the eastern-half of North America.
>They migrate to Central America to spend the winter.
> During spring migration they fly non-stop across the Gulf of Mexico from the Yucatan Peninsula to the US.
> Can reach speeds of 35 MPH.
> They have feet that are so small the birds can only perch with them. Walking is virtually impossible.
> Can beat their wings 53 times per second.
> Contrary to popular belief, hummingbirds do NOT catch rides on the backs of migrating geese.
So enjoy the abundance of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds while they last During September we will notice a decrease in their numbers in our gardens and at our feeders. The males will depart first for their long journey back to Mexico and other places in Central America followed by females and hatch-year birds (young birds born this season). By the end of October we shouldn't have any Ruby-throated hummers at all. But please remember to keep at least one feeder up for winter hummingbirds. I bring my feeder inside the house on nights the outside temperature is expected to fall below freezing and hang it back outside before sunrise. The current Georgia checklist indicates eleven different species of hummingbirds have been recognized in Georgia according to the Georgia Ornithological Society ( Many of these “different” hummingbirds occur during our winter months. And in July 2008 I was fortunate enough to host the third Georgia state record ever for Broad-billed Hummingbird right here in Americus. Hey, birds have wings and can go wherever they want to.
And unlike humans, no passport is required when crossing international boarders!

Take time to enjoy the beauty of our native birds.

Reprinted with the permission of the Americus Times Recorder.

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