This Week’s Creature Feature: Ruby-throated ­Hummingbirds

These little birds are high-performance machines
      Hummingbirds are here, and by mid-May the migration should be complete. Arriving before many high-nectar flowers are blooming, they eat lots of small flying insects. They also will drink the tree sap from the holes made by sapsuckers.
     The ruby-throated males arrive first and set up territories that they protect from rivals. When a white-throated female enters the male’s space, he may begin a dazzling courtship display in flight. If the courtship is successful, the female starts building a unique nest. The nest is woven using spider webs. The outside is covered with material that matches the location of the nest.
        Two to three eggs are laid and just barely fit in the nest. After the eggs hatch and the young start to grow, the nest stretches to accommodate. The female alone takes care of the young. They grow quickly, and after three weeks they are on their own. 
      These ruby-throated hummingbirds are high-performance birds. Though they weigh about as much as a penny, their wings beat some 50 times a second, moving them forward, backward and sideways at a maximum speed of 25 mph. They live up to five years.  
          Attracting hummingbirds to your yard is fairly easy. They like tubular flowers with nectar like the trumpet creeper, cardinal flower, honeysuckle and bee balm. Many local garden shops are knowledgeable about the flowers that attract the birds. Hummingbird feeders work well too, but do not add coloring to the solution, and clean the feeders twice a week.  The typical solution is a ratio of four to one water to table sugar.
      At the end of the summer, the hummingbirds migrate south. They winter as far away as South America but may stop in Florida or Cuba.