I’m here to tell you that it’s just fine to be tiny! Ruby-throated hummingbirds are the smallest birds to breed in the Eastern U.S., and although they come daily to feed on the flowers outside my window (sometimes staring in at me as if they’d like to fly through the looking glass), I rarely get good pictures, because they never hold still for even a second! In fact, their tiny wings beat 55 (and up to 200) times every second as they hover, and their tiny hearts beat over 1,200 times per minute! No wonder they consume more than their body weight (which is just a little over a tenth of an ounce) in nectar every day just to keep alive! I used to keep a ruby-red hummingbird feeder and specialized, red solution to attract the hummingbirds, but then I read that the red dyes might be bad for them, so I started using my own solution of 1 part sugar to 1 part water. However, I then read that the solution should really be changed every day lest bacteria grow in it, with warnings against honey, brown, and raw sugars—which can be deadly…not to mention artificial food reduces the amount of natural pollination of local plants, etc. Hmmm. So much for trying to give these teensy birds a treat! For the past few years, I keep a bright red hibiscus and a planter of purple and red fuschsias on the deck outside my window. The hummingbirds love these and visit a half a dozen times a day (for a few seconds). Since then, I’ve been able to film them sipping nectar every once in a great while, although most of my attempts are still out of focus! Just once did I see both the male and female together (couldn’t get a picture, though :( ), and after some research, I now know why. Unlike most birds, hummingbird males only mate for a few seconds. (Should that surprise us?) The females lay 1-3 tiny eggs in an itsy-bitsy, cup-shaped nest about the size of an acorn, artfully crafted from lichen and lined with spider’s silk, which will expand as the chicks mature during their 2-3 week nestling stage. My daughter-in-law Carleen (who’s a great nature lover like I am), sleuthed out the location of a hummingbird nest in the woods near their home in Connecticut, and after the brood had been reared, she carefully took the nest home, thinking it wouldn’t be used again. Actually, hummingbirds usually have two broods a year and typically repair and reuse their nests, but Carlie didn’t know that (since many birds build different nests for each batch of eggs; she’s a super-compassionate person who would help a wounded spider if she found one). I trust the mama with the missing nest was able to build another! Ruby-throated hummingbirds are seasonal residents, leaving to winter in Mexico and Central America, some actually surviving a 500-mile, direct crossing of the Gulf of Mexico! My guess is that anyone reading this knows just what they look like, but in case you don’t: they have beautiful, metallic green backs, greyish white underparts, brown-black wings, black-with-white tail feathers, and exceptionally tiny little feet! Their bills are long, straight (slightly down-curved), slender, and up to 0.8″ long, which seems inordinately big given their 3″ body length and 4″ wingspan! But, they don’t drink with their beaks. These magnificent tinys actually drink by rapidly lapping nectar with their long, tubular tongues (although my eyes aren’t quick enough to discern this by watching). Perhaps the most most unique feature of hummingbirds is their agility in flight. 25-30% of their body weight is muscle, and they are the only birds to have wings that connect only at the shoulder joint, making it possible for their wings to rotate almost 180%! They have been known to fly upside down and are the only birds known to fly backward. So, even though they’re tiny, they’re great at escaping from predators! Seems to me these littlest of our neighborhood feathered friends are the perfect combination of being busy as bees with every reason to be happy as jaybirds! And, they’re beautiful! Does it get any better than that?!
So, tiny is just fine, don’t you think?
“You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you” (Joel 2:26).
[The two pictures of the hummingbird nest with Carleen and the picture of the nest in the tree are used by permission of my daughter-in-law. Thank you, Carlie!]