Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Smallest of the Small

One of my recent posts chronicled the nesting and fledging of the Chestnut-sided Warbler.  A few days ago, I took the final shot of a juvenile chestnut in his "full dress", getting ready to depart for his long trip to Central America or northern Colombia.  To me it is an amazing story; each spring their long flight ends on our Cedar Ridge.  The chestnuts build their nests, lay their eggs, feed their chicks and fledge their young in a matter of two and a half months.  Now, they are readying for that long trip back to the tropics.

Yesterday, as I was refilling the hummingbird feeder, I had eight or so "Rubies" watching me from the cedar trees.  I stood there watching them buzz each other and jockey for position at the feeder.  I know they are fattening up for their long trip south and their migratory story is even more compelling than the Chestnut-sided Warbler.  It is hard to fathom that this 3 gram speedster, will fly non stop across 500 miles of the Gulf of Mexico.

I have found nests of the hummingbirds in the forest and they are not only intricate, but fabulously camouflaged. They are usually located 10-20 feet above the ground, on a tree branch. Each nest I have found has a beautifully decorated exterior of lichen that exactly matches the tree limb. It is a work of art.

The female lays two eggs, about the size of a pea or jelly bean and by this time the male has "flown the coop." (Maybe this is why all the females at our feeder, continually chase the lone male out of the area). The incubation phase is usually around 12-16 days. The nesting period is longer than the chestnuts which is 11-15 days, the hummer's don't leave the nest until 15-30 days. Most will "practice" wing stretching and beating their wings rapidly for exercise. They will then make maiden voyages from the nest to trees in the area and back again. The fledglings will stay around the nest for a number of days being fed by the mother.

We have around a dozen Ruby-throated Hummingbirds visiting our feeder. They are extremely territorial, protecting their precious, liquid food source. At the moment we have only one male at the feeder and he is rudely welcomed at all times. This action by the females is quite interesting, because in most cases it is the male that aggressively protects his food source. It is reported that the older males are usually the first to arrive in the spring and first to leave in late summer. So I suspect that my lone male is a younger hummingbird.

One hummingbird stat that I found interesting is that many Ruby-throated Hummingbirds travel more than 2000 miles from Central America to Canada. Since our Cedar Ridge is located around 40 miles from Canada (as the raven flies) it is an impressive accomplishment... twice a year.

In the fall of 2008, our last Ruby-throated Hummingbird departed September 19. I imagine the weather will play an important role in their decision to leave our area. Until then we will be watching their feeder antics and do our best to fuel them for the long, perilous journey.

Hummingbird darts lightly through the world, spreading its message of joy and beauty, and teaching us to appreciate the wonder and magic of everyday existence. Hummingbird brings the gift of joy. Learn to laugh and be happy. ~ unknown