February 2014 Bird Photo of the Month

Hummingbird and Honeysuckle © G. Lee Benson
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris)

Usually we see a blur of wings as our tiny 3-inch Ruby-throated Hummingbird, weighing less than a nickel, hums by. Their wings beat so fast, at least 55 times per second, but by using a fast shutter speed, Lee Benson stopped action with his Nikon D300, Aperture Priority, f/5.6 at 1/1600 sec, ISO-500, Nikkor 2.8 70-200mm lens, with 1.7 teleconverter. Tiny, neatly rowed feathers are visible especially on the metallic green back and ruby throat (940 total feathers = 15% of their weight and are twice as heavy as their bones). At night, facing low temperatures, they can lower energy consumption by 10-60% by reducing respiratory rate (to 100 breaths/minute rather than 300-400), body temperature by 8-10 degrees C, and heart rate from 1260 beats/minute to 30.

A master at hovering, hummingbirds are the only birds that can fly backwards, rotating their wings independently from a shoulder ball and socket in all directions to maneuver away from predators, escaping by flying forward, backward, sideways or even upside down! This, the only hummingbird that breeds in eastern North America from Canada to Florida, understandably seeks warmth and flowers during the winter. All migrate, some to the southern US while, amazingly, others fly nonstop across the 500-mile Gulf of Mexico to winter from Mexico to Panama. To prepare for their long journey, they consume nectar with its high sugar content, stored as fat, to double their weight. Spiders and insects provide essential protein for adults who feed them to nestlings almost exclusively.

Hummingbirds must visit 1,000- 2,000 flowers per day and eat once every 10-15 minutes to maintain their unique metabolism. You can help them thrive here by providing them with red, orange, and yellow tubular flowers. Plant native vines, plants, shrubs, and trees like bee balm, Florida trumpet honeysuckle, and hummingbird sage which provide much more nectar and insects than hybrid and exotic plants.

Juanita Baker, Coordinator
Florida Bird Photo of the Month
Pelican Island Audubon Society

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