The Smallest Bird on Earth by Jennifer Howard

I am sure we have all seen one at one time or another. This beautiful tiny little bird with beautiful iridescent feathers. One of our smallest birds on this earth is from the hummingbird family. Motoring around in our gardens sipping at the nectar. Sometimes when they arrive back, they go to the trees for that liquid gold. “Sap”.

In the spring one of our arrivals back is the yellow-bellied sapsucker. He is the one who taps multiple tiny holes in the trees, producing sap leakage. Many benefit from this; bees, butterflies, flies, ants, etc., and hummingbirds. This is life when no flowers are out yet. Ruby-throated hummingbirds are what we see here. Amazing tiny birds. A mere 3.5 inches long weighing in at about 3.1 to 3.4 grams. Its body temperature runs between 105 to 108 degrees F.

The adult male is the one with the amazing ruby red throat that he “flashes” in excitement. Females are soft and beautiful as well with their white front. If you watch one at your flowers or feeders, their wings are just a blur. Why? Because they beat 40 to 80 beats per minute. Hard to even imagine the energy that takes. Their heart rate is even more incredible. At rest, it is a whopping 250 beats per minute. But at feeding, it is an incredible 1200 beats per minute. It hovers in one spot while it drinks. Which is why it’s nice to have a feeder where it can perch. Their tiny tongue is longer than their bill and actually forked at the end and grooved at the sides. Designed to scoop up the nectar and soak it up then squeeze it into their mouths.

Please, please DO NOT use red food colouring in their food. This is very toxic to these tiny birds. In time, it will cause a fungus to grow on their tongue and they will be unable to eat causing a slow horrible death. They do not need red in their nectar.  Making your own sugar solution is best.  It’s cheap it’s easy and keeps for 2 weeks covered in your fridge. 1 part granulated white sugar to 4 parts boiling water. Stir, let sit till, cool cover and refrigerate. Easy safe no food colouring. But in hot weather, if we ever get any, make sure you change feeders and clean with a brush and hot water every 3 days. I prefer glass feeders to plastic and easy cleaning ones. You can buy ant guards in places like Wild Birds Unlimited to put above the feeder to keep ants away. Bee guards to keep bees out.

Jennifer Howard: The one with hummer in hand was at a hummingbird banding workshop. I heard its heart beat and chirping at my ear and was able to release one as well. Incredible.
Jennifer Howard: The one with hummer in hand was at a hummingbird banding workshop. I heard its heart beat and chirping at my ear and was able to release one as well. Incredible.

Everything about this little bird is fast. Flying around at anywhere from 30 mph to 50 mph. It is said that a hummingbird can see your feeder from ¾ of a mile away. Having incredible eyesight. The female builds her nest from soft dandelion down and maybe some lichen. So soft for the wee eggs and babes. Held to a tiny branch by spider’s web material. But be careful, because spider webs can also trap them. So, keep feeders clear of webs. The nest is a mere size of a quarter. So, spotting one is not easy. Female takes on all the responsibility of this task. She usually lays two tiny white eggs. Hatching occurs in 12 to 15 days. Two to three days apart, the way they are laid. Nestlings come out of the nest at about 18 to 23 days. As you can imagine, mom has her hands, I mean feathers full.

When fall arrives and it’s time to say farewell. This little bird leaves us for its incredible journey south. Flying across the Gulf of Mexico, wintering in Central America. It takes approximately 8 to 24 hours to fly across the gulf. It does this spring and fall.

Attracting this amazing bird to your garden is easy. They love turtle head which blooms end of summer early fall. Bee balm, jewelweed, lavender to name a few. They love fuchsia hanging baskets, so do I. Honeysuckle bushes, etc., all beautiful additions to one’s yard. Just ask your local garden center what they have, to attract hummers and go to it. Now your set and ready to attract these little treasures. Grab a chair, a nice cool drink and sit back and wait. They will arrive and put on the show of your life. Enjoy!