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Always On the Move:
Hummingbirds In Flight

Compiled by Nanci Bross-Fregonara

heartbeat: 600bpmAlthough small in size, the ruby-throated hummingbird packs a wallop in energy as it zooms around like a fighter pilot in the backyards of the Mountain State.   These avian speed demons can fly at speeds up to   60 mph and are the only birds capable of flying backwards.

When flying, a hummingbird's heart beats more than 600 times a minute and its wings beat about 75 times per second, making them appear simply as a blur.   It's no wonder that they like to frequent feeders for an energy boost!

Hummingbirds are among the smallest birds in the world.   Of the 319 hummingbird species which occur in the western hemisphere, 21 species live in the United States. But only eight of those species are present way north of the Mexican border and of those, only the ruby-throated hummingbird inhabits West Virginia.

This tiny bird gets its name from the male's ruby red throat.   Ruby-throated hummingbirds are migratory birds present in West Virginia only during the breeding season. These lively migrants can most easily be seen feeding on nectar from flowering plants and at feeders.  


Hummingbirds usually build their nests in open woods, saddled 5-20 feet above the ground on the limb of a maple, beech, birch, hornbeam , or hemlock.   The nest is compactly built of soft down from ferns, milkweed, fireweed, thistles and young oak leaves.   Spiders' webs are used to keep it in place.   The outside of the nest is typically decorated with lichens or mosses.  

Two white eggs about the size of a pea are laid from mid-April to July and then incubated for 16 days.   Young hummingbirds fly approximately 20-22 days after hatching.   Hummingbirds usually nest twice each season, but have been known to nest three times in one year.


In the fall, when the flowers begin to fade, the hummingbirds begin their migration southward to their winter range.   For this reason, it is recommended that hummingbird feeders be left up for at least a few weeks after the last hummingbird is observed. During this time, hummers are on the move, and the feeders may provide much needed energy to birds passing through.  

Contrary to popular belief, feeders will not encourage hummers to stay later than they should.   The birds that are seen at feeders toward the end of the breeding season are often late fledglings.  

After building up a substantial supply of fat, they travel thousands of miles across the Gulf of Mexico to their winter range in Central and South America.   Each spring, ruby-throated hummingbirds move northward from their winter range, cross the Gulf of Mexico and continue north to breeding areas in the eastern United States and Canada, arriving in West Virginia about mid-April.


Hummingbirds are most attracted to red flowers.   Other brightly-colored flowers with a bell or tube-like shape also attract   hummingbirds. They are especially attracted to flowers like wild columbine, trumpet-creeper, bee balm, bleeding heart, cardinal flower and jewelweed; acceptable non-native plants -including scarlet sage, phlox, petunia, nasturtium, gladiolus and morning glory; flowering shrubs, such as butterfly bush and weigela ; and flowering trees, such as black locust, horse chestnut and yellow (tulip) poplar.


Hummingbird feeders need not be intricate or expensive.   Many fine feeders are commercially available, but remember when selecting a hummingbird feeder, to choose one that is easy to fill and clean.   Make sure that all parts of the feeder can be reached for easy cleaning.

The feeder should also have some red coloration, which attracts hummingbirds.   If necessary choose a feeder with bee guards, which are small plastic screens placed

Tips on planting a hummingbird garden

1) Locate flowering plants close to cover and perch sites, such as groups of shrubs.   If possible, place plants so you can watch hummingbirds feeding.

2) Plant a variety of food sources that bloom at different times to provide nectar all summer long.

3) Select species and varieties suited to your climate, soil and light conditions.

4) If the plant is a vine, provide a trellis or similar structure.

5) Follow correct planting and maintenance procedures for your area. Ask your local nursery owner for more information.

over the feeder ports to deter bees but allow the bird to insert its long bill into the sugar solution.  

To discourage ants, try putting Vaseline on the feeder support pole or string if it is hanging.   Hummingbird feeders should be placed in the shade, protected from the wind, and near some perching sites, such as tree and shrub branches.   Don't hang feeders near an electric fence with red or yellow post insulators, as hummingbirds may be attracted to them.

Nectar solutions for feeders are available commercially, however, this is a needless expense.   A sugar solution can easily be made at home by combining four parts water to one part sugar (for example: 1 cup water + ¼ cup sugar).   Do not use more than this. Heat water to dissolve the sugar, and let the solution cool.   Fill the feeder with the solution and place any extra solution in the refrigerator.   This solution closely replicates the natural nectar of many flowers used by hummers .   Do not use honey, brown sugar or other sweeteners in feeders. They can promote the growth of harmful bacteria.  

Also, do not use red food coloring in feeders.   Some scientists report that red food coloring may harm hummingbirds.   Food coloring is also not needed because a little red color on the feeder itself is usually enough to attract the birds.

Clean feeders every five to seven days in order to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria.   Throw away the old solution and rinse the feeder well with hot water.   Do not use soap or detergent.   The feeder can be cleaned by using a vinegar solution and some uncooked rice grains and shaking vigorously.   Be sure and keep your feeders filled with fresh sugar solution. Empty or dirty feeders may cause hummingbirds to seek other feeders.

Hummers also eat flower nectar and high-protein insects.   In addition to your feeder, it is important to provide natural nectar sources (flowers) and habitat areas where small insects thrive, such as shrubs and unmown grasses.  

Providing a good habitat for these hard-working tiny birds will mean not only hours of enjoyment for observers, but will also assist in the bird's migratory travels.