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All about the Hummingbird

By Joel McNeece

The sound was something to behold. Sitting on Grady Wilson’s back porch under his metal roof there was a constant hum.

Hanging from the edge of the roof were nine hummingbird feeders with dozens buzzing and battling for position to suck on some of Mr. Grady’s homemade feed.

We have two feeders on our backyard patio and love to sit and watch the three or four hummingbirds that frequent them. Nothing like Mr. Grady’s house in the Mt. Moriah Community.

They came in swarms there, surrounding every feeder, darting here and there in a blur of business.

“It’s just amazing how they can just hang there and change direction so fast,” Mr. Grady said.

We were sitting less than 10 feet away from the feeders and the birds had no concern with us. At one point, one buzzed up and hung two feet in front of Mr. Grady’s face, just looking at him.

Even Mr. Grady’s dogs, including two large chocolate Labs, one of which was occupied with a small lizard dancing around the patio, offered no disturbance to the hummers.

I sat for almost an hour with Mr. Grady learning more about hummingbirds than I’ve ever thought about. I was compelled to look up some data to get more understanding.

The typical hummingbird weighs three grams. That’s less than a nickel which weighs only 4.5 grams.

You’ve never seen a hummingbird walking on the ground. That’s because their feet evolved to be smaller and lighter for more efficient flying.

As to Mr. Grady’s fascination of how they can dance so magically in the air, their wings rotate 360 degrees and they are the only species that can fly backward, as well as in any other direction.

Based on what we know about the brain, the hummingbird should be the smartest of all birds. Its brain is 4.2 percent of its body weight, the largest proportion in the bird kingdom.

On a related note, hummingbirds can reportedly remember every flower they have been to and how long it will take it to refill once they’ve sucked it dry.

The average life span of a hummingbird is only five years.

When it comes to what they love to eat, Mr. Grady will tell you it’s his homemade feed. He goes through a gallon a day keeping his 100-plus hummingbirds satisfied.

We don’t require quite that much at our house, but we do use the same recipe – four parts water to one part cane sugar.

The hummingbirds appear to prefer it, as flower nectar is made up of nearly 25 percent sucrose.

Many I know, as we have at times, put red food coloring in the feed. Several articles I read said you shouldn’t do that. Hummingbirds are smart, they don’t need the artificial color and it can in fact be harmful in large amounts. They just want the sugar. Most feeders are red and that’s really all you need in terms of color.

Another important factor in making your feed is not to over boil your sugar water. You’re not trying to make syrup. The boiling is only for the water itself to rid it of the chlorine and any other chemicals that come from the tap.

Among the more remarkable facts about hummingbirds is how far these tiny creatures fly. Mr. Grady kept noting his amazement at how they can fly clear across the Gulf of Mexico.

In fact, the ruby-throated hummingbird flies 500 miles nonstop across the Gulf during both its spring and fall migrations.

That’s a lot of ground to cover from Mt. Moriah to South America, but these hummingbirds have proven they know the way as they return every year to Mr. Grady’s.

He said he’ll be hosting hummingbirds into October. That’s a lot of gallons of feed, but if you spend some time on Mr. Grady’s back porch and take in the show you would learn very quickly it’s very much worth it.

Joel McNeese is the publisher of the Calhoun County Journal.