Porches and Hummingbirds

There are bunches of sweet spots associated with porch sitting, especially in the Appalachians. Taking time from the hustle and bustle of life and just sittin’ a spell is a remarkable kind of calming.

Settling back, enjoying the vista, clearing the mind, contemplating life, sipping a favorite beverage, and connecting with friends, neighbors and nature. And your Maker. Front porches everywhere, not just in the High Country, are an invitation to a slower, more intentional pace.

If it sounds like an old-fashioned habit, it’s not. Looking for peace and tranquility following a busy day? Set aside 20 minutes on the porch, settling into a favorite rocker or swing, preferably with your sweetheart by your side and your four-legged family members lying at your feet.

(For optimum pleasure, leave your phone inside.)

But be forewarned. The comforting confines of your porch, at least here in the mountains of western North Carolina, often provide a front-row seat for combat, hostilities, battles and rivalries. And I’m not talking about sitting with your in-laws.

I’m talking about The Hummingbird Wars.

The Hummingbird Wars

The porch view provides quite an action scene complements of these small, often brightly colored birds. We provide the spoils for the skirmishes by making and setting out hummingbird feeders with nectar. Hummingbirds love sugar, going straight for the glucose. They can eat more than twice their body weight daily.

Once the feeders are filled, the sparring contests begin!

Zoom! Beak-to-beak clashes! Chirps, chits, hums, trills and buzz! Hovering, pendulum stare-downs! Steep, dare-devil dives! Aerial maneuvering that would make Luke Skywalker envious.

(Above:  Turn up the volume when watching this YouTube video.)

Hums? Really? You bet! This sound emanates from a pair of tiny wings that are whipping back and forth nearly 50 times every second! Their wings become a blur of rapid motion. Their near-invisible wings can propel them forward, backward and even upside down. The name hummingbird comes from the humming noise their wings make.

Tranquility interrupted

Hummingbirds are aggressive because they are fiercely territorial. Once the feeders are discovered, particularly if consistently refreshed, battles for spots to drink the nectar can go on for hours.

The combatants will disappear briefly, keeping an eye on the prize with their excellent eyesight from an overhead branch high in a tree or a ground-level bush. They’ll perch for long periods, keeping vigilance, waiting for a rival hummingbird to attempt to partake, and then dart back to the feeder to chase off visitors and protect their prized turf.

When multiple hummingbirds get to staking claim to feeder spots, the zooming and bobbing battles are incredibly fun to watch. Indeed, I’d go so far as to say awe-inspiring.

These intelligent birds can remember everything about their territory, including every flower and feeder they’ve visited. The weary combatants usually sleep from dusk till dawn, and start their quest for nectar and superiority with daylight.

HummingbirdsHummingbird A-Z

With a nod of gratitude to the googles, hummingbirds are quite simply amazing:

  • There are over 330 species of hummingbirds in North and South America.
  • As noted above, their wings flap 50 times per second. Their hearts beat more than 1,200 beats per minute. Compare that to you and me — our hearts beat between 65 and 100 times per minute (at rest). Hummingbirds take about 250 breaths per minute.
  • They are the smallest migrating bird. They don’t migrate in flocks like other species and typically travel alone for up to 500 miles at a time.
  • Hummingbirds are the only birds that can fly backward.
  • They have been clocked at nearly 30 mph in direct flight and more than 45 mph during courtship dives.
  • Hummingbirds have no sense of smell. While they can’t sniff out feeders, they have good color vision. They are attracted to the color red, which is why the four feeders on our porches here in the High Country each have a red component in their structure.
  • Group of Hummingbirds Sipping NectarThe average weight of a hummingbird is less than a nickel.
  • Their tiny legs are only used for perching and moving sideways while perched. They can’t walk or hop.
  • A hummingbird’s brain makes up around 4.2% of its body weight. This is the most in the entire wild-bird group.
  • Hummingbirds drink the nectar found in feeders by moving their tongue in and out about 13 times per second. They can consume up to double their body weight in a day.
  • The average number of eggs laid by female hummingbirds is two. Eggs have been found in nests smaller than a half dollar and compare in size to a jellybean.
  • More than most birds, hummingbirds need to bathe regularly due to the sticky nature of nectar.
  • A flock of hummingbirds can be called a bouquet, a glittering, a hover, a shimmer, or a tune.

Flying HummingbirdEngagement

The skirmishes for the feeder and leader position are riveting. Zooming in and out of the feeders’ parameters, much of the battle is spent whirring, chattering and challenging competitors for precious spots on the feeder.

It doesn’t take long for your eyesight from your porch seat to follow a hummingbird’s flight to a high branch to monitor a feeder, where oversight immediately commences. They don’t particularly want nectar at this point; they just don’t want any of their competitors to partake of their food source. When competition hovers near the nectar, the self-proclaimed king of the feeder dives like an eagle to the feeder to defend their sweet domain. Both — or three or five or eight — hummingbirds make a racket, dancing and bobbing and occasionally even bumping bodies, and then the zoom-zip-whirl-whiz chase begins. This game is played out hundreds of times on a sunny day.

Typically, hummingbirds make gentle noises as they land and consume the nectar from the feeder. However, when defending their feeders or flowers, they immediately shift into fighting mode, summoning bullying sounds and tactics. Adding to the show, males nose-dive in front of females during mating season, squeaking in sharp trills.

Gloriously, a hummingbird will occasionally descend and hover in front of you, staring at you and seemingly delivering a chattering message solely for you.

Hummingbird Sipping Nectar

A tiny but powerful voice for conservation

There are 365 different species of hummingbirds in the Americas. Twenty-eight species, or around 8%, are listed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as threatened or critically threatened. Loss of habitat poses the biggest threat to the survival of most of these dwindling hummingbird species.

Feeling low?

Hummingbirds have long been thought of as spiritual messengers. Many cultures throughout the world believe that seeing a hummingbird is a sign from a higher being. Recalling the tiny hummingbird’s valiant tenacity and bravery in battling for its own existence, the wonders of nature can be an excellent source of inspiration for many going through difficult times. “Hummingbird is the spirit of pure joy! She is the messenger of beauty and wonder, and she reminds us to taste the sweet nectar of life.” (Anonymous)

See you on the porch

From this porch sitter’s perspective, hummingbirds put me in a happy place. And guess what? One of the many cool things about hummingbirds is that they return from their winter sojourns to sites where they found good food supplies the year before.

We intend to keep giving them a reason to come back.


Addendum from LSomerbyCooke …

I’m a big fan of the work of The National Audubon Society, a nonprofit environmental organization dedicated to the conservation of birds and their habitats.  Incorporated in 1905, Audubon is one of the oldest such organizations in the world.  Visit their informative page about hummingbirds here.

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