The hummingbird

Published 10:58 am Wednesday, September 6, 2017

September is upon us and so I begin to prepare for the official arrival of Fall. I must admit that it is somewhat sad to bid farewell to summer’s abundant gardens full of beauty and life of all sorts. Now that many of the flowers and herbs have cycled through their blooming period, I pay special attention to the hummingbird feeders in the gardens.

The hummingbirds usually start their migration South anytime in the month of August and will continue through October. You may notice sporadic large groups of them at your feeders between now and October. They are gorging themselves on sugar nectar and insects in preparation for migration. Hummingbirds will gain 25-40 percent of their body weight before the start of their journey South.

They are such amazing little creatures. Excluding insects, research has shown that while flying hummingbirds have the highest metabolism of all animals. Their heart rate has been measured at 1,260 beats per minute and their oxygen consumption per gram of muscle tissue is about 10 times higher than a human athlete at their peak.

Evolution has provided them with specialized eyesight for their navigational and feeding needs. Their range in kidney functions is also extraordinary. They process water via glomerular filtration in amounts proportionate to what is consumed, avoiding overhydration. During times when water may be scarce their glomerular filtration stops and they are able to preserve body water. These specialized kidneys are also able to control levels of electrolytes indicating that they are specially equipped to handle variations in nectar and mineral quality.

Hummingbirds, like parrots and song birds, have the ability to acquire vocalization by imitation. They chirp, squeak, whistle and buzz. Before having the pleasure of observing them in my gardens, I had always thought of them as silent birds.

If they survive their first year of life (many do not) they may occasionally live a decade.

Among the North American species a life span of three to five years is probably more common.

The variety in species, feather colors and their quirky aerodynamic antics about the flowers and feeders in the garden are very entertaining. Though they may seem social at the feeders, they are solitary creatures nesting and migrating alone.

In addition to all of their amazing physical characteristics there is much cultural lore and myth regarding the hummingbird. The Aztecs believed that their fallen warriors would return as hummingbirds and butterflies. Contrary to what some folk believe, they do not migrate on the backs of geese.

Hummingbirds are fascinating little creatures. Help fatten them up before their journey by keeping your feeders full until the end of October.

Dawn Conrad is a columnist for The K-V Dispatch. She can be reached at or