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Answers from the Hummingbird Expert

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Answers From the Hummingbird Expert

Special thanks to Lanny Chambers, for providing his time and expertise in responding to your questions.

From: Fairfax, California

Q: I feed Anna's hummingbirds on the west coast and during the summer when we are in Maine I feed ruby throated hummingbirds. I have looked in all the books for the answer to the question of how to keep the bees off the feeders. They frighten the birds away. I do use handing traps that catch some of them.

A: The best way to discourage bees and wasps is to use a feeder that doesn't reward them with a free meal. The saucer-style feeders don't drip, and keep the syrup level too low for insects to reach, so bees soon give up in frustration. More importantly, they don't go back to the hive and tell their sisters about the free lunch. Bottle-type feeders always have syrup within reach of insects, and bee guards are not effective when the feeder drips.

Photo: Harlan and Altus Aschen

If you can't switch feeders, try moving the feeder. Hummingbirds will find its new location quickly, but bees may not. Also, try a weaker sugar concentration: 1:5 is less attractive than 1:4. Finally, bottle feeders drip less if hung in the shade.

From: Missouri

Q: Are there backyard hummingbird counts in the fall? and If so how do we get involved?

A: I don't know of a national fall hummingbird count, but some places hold local bird counts. Check with your local Audubon Society chapter to see if there's a fall count in your town. Perhaps your class could volunteer to start one!

A Ruby-throated Hummingbird being banded
Credit: Laura Erickson

Q: Are there more hummingbirds now than in the 1960's or 1970's.

A: Probably not. Most species' populations appear to be steady or increasing very slightly, but it's hard to say because hummingbird populations are difficult to estimate away from feeders, and reliable total numbers don't exist. However, Rufous Hummingbird seems to be declining, and we don't know why.

From: Sappington School, LEAP program
St. Louis, Missouri

Q: We know the hummer goes torpid when the weather is cold, but what happens when the weather is really hot?

A: Hummingbirds actually face more challenge staying cool than staying warm, which is probably why they lack downy feathers for insulation. In hot weather, they open their bills and pant like dogs to stay cool. They also seek shady spots to rest, and cool off by bathing.

Q: How much does a hummingbird eat in a day? Ounces of nectar or pounds of nectar?

A: A hummingbird may need about one and a half times its body weight in nectar each day. An average Ruby-throated weighs about 3 grams, so my calculator says it would drink about 0.01 pounds of nectar daily. But remember that nectar is only about half of its diet--it gets its real nutrition from catching insects and spiders.

Q: If a hummingbird broke it's foot,would it survive? What if it broke a wing?

A: Banders occasionally see a hummingbird with a foot that's broken, crippled, or even missing. These birds seems to cope with their handicaps, their survival proven by recapture in future years. However, a broken wing is usually very bad news, since a flightless hummer can't eat. Sometimes, hummingbirds with broken wings are taken to rehabilitation centers for treatment, but few of them heal well enough to be released.

From: South O'Brien Middle School
Sutherland, Iowa

Q: Where do hummingbirds live, in trees or bushes?

A: They spend the night in the shelter of both trees and bushes. During the day, they're either guarding territories or on the move foraging for food.

Q: Do hummers live in groups? If so, how many are in a group and what is the group called?

A: No, hummingbirds spend their lives alone. If you see more than one adult hummer at a time, they're almost always either mating or fighting.

Q: Do hummers ever go near humans?

A: Yes, I've gotten them to perch on my finger at a feeder, and sometimes they'll hover in my face, just checking me out.

From: Montgomery Academy
San Diego, California

Q: Why is it that the hummingbird is the only one that can fly backwards?

A: The unique structure of their shoulder joints that lets them hover also lets them fly backward, or even upside down. Their wings move in a figure-8 pattern instead of flapping up and down, and they can adjust the wing angle to aim the thrust in any direction.

Q: Where do humming birds go when it rains?

A: Usually, they don't pay much attention to rain, except to take advantage of the opportunity for a bath. In really bad storms, they seek shelter in dense shrubbery, just like other small birds.

From: Homeschoolers
Buford, Georgia

Q: Is the Ruby Throat migration linked to the native flowers blooming?

A: It seems to be, at least in a general way, though the first arrivals in the northern parts of the range often appear before anything is blooming, and have to rely on insects and sapsucker wells for food until spring catches up to them. More study is needed.

The tiny holes drilled by this Yellow-bellied Sapsucker are an important source of sweet fluid for Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in early spring
Credit: Ann Cook

Q: Are Ruby Throat hummingbirds attracted to bodies of water like ponds, lakes, creeks or streams?

A: Yes indeed. Tree branches that overhang creeks and ponds are favorite nesting spots, and there are usually plenty of flowers and bugs to eat around water.

Q: Can hummingbirds walk like other birds?

A: No, their legs and feet are very weak and not designed for walking. The best they can do is shuffle sideways along a perch for short distances.

Lanny Chambers
St. Louis, MO
Be sure to visit Lanny's Hummingbird Website

How to Use FAQ's About Journey North Species
Since 1995, experts have contributed answers to students' questions about each Journey North species. These questions and answers are archived in our FAQ's (Frequently Asked Questions) section. You can use today's Answers from the Expert above, along with those from previous years, in the activities suggested in the lesson, "FAQ's About Journey North Species"