Everyone enjoys watching hummingbirds. Their ever-changing colours in the sunshine, their acrobatic talents and their aggressiveness in chasing even much larger birds are a delight to watch. There are over 300 species of hummingbirds worldwide.
They play an important role in ecosystem services such as seed dissemination, regeneration and dispersal of pollen. Some 75% of flowers rely on pollinators including hummingbirds.
Most people do not realize that like elephants, and wolves, hummingbirds are a keystone species. That means they play a key role in their habitat that no other species can play. There are a number of plants worldwide which have trumpet shaped flowers so deep that no other animal can pollinate. Hummingbirds have evolved along with these plants so that they are able to reach deep into the throat of these flowers. These plants would not exist were it not for the hummingbirds ability to pollinate them.
The ruby throated hummingbird is the only one of its family native to Ontario. It weighs in at 3.1 grams. That is half the weight of one Canadian Loonie. They need to eat about half their body weight every day. Many of them fly 600 miles nonstop across the Gulf of Mexico on their migration twice a year.
They nest in dense brush and build their nests of twigs, plant fibers, and leaves all tied together with spider silk. A variety of fibres are used such as willow catkins, fuzz from lambs ear, silks from milkweed and clematis.
They feed on a wide variety of flowers. It is important to have blooms available throughout the season. Some of their favourites include Virginia bluebells, cardinal flower, bleeding heart, lupine, zinnia, beebalm, salvia, butterfly bush, nicotinia and butterfly bush. They are attracted to red, yellow, purple, pink and orange. They eat arthropods such as insects and spiders in addition to nectar from flowers.
You can supplement their diet by using a good quality hummingbird feeder. It should be placed in a shady area to prevent the sun from fermenting the liquid. Mix one part sugar and four parts water with no dye for colour. The feeder needs to be kept clean. Use vinegar rather than bleach as it rinses off more completely and will not be harmful.
Enjoy these amazing creatures!
Submitted by Don Farwell