By Christine Donald, Outdoor Recreation Planner, Santa Ana NWR
published May 2016

Spring is in the air with all of its glorious renewal. Wildflowers are sprouting, butterflies are fluttering, birds are singing and green grass is growing, signaling for many that it is once again time for mowing and weed-eating. For me, it means that it is time for hummingbirds to make their appearance. I look forward to their arrival and enjoy watching them. They are true marvels in the bird world.

Hummingbirds are New World birds that constitute the family Trochilidae including over 300 species. Among the smallest of birds, most species measure in the 7.5 - 13 cm range. The smallest hummingbird, the bee hummingbird, shown here at its approximate actual size, weighs less than a penny.

Have you ever wondered where their name comes from? Their name comes from the humming sound created when they flap their wings 80 times per second. They are true aviators in the sky and can fly right, left, up, down, backwards and even upside down. They are also able to hover by flapping their wings in a figure-8 pattern. They have a specialized long and tapered bill that is used to obtain nectar from the center of long, tubular flowers.

The hummingbird's feet are used for perching only, and not for hopping or walking. Hummingbirds primarily eat flower nectar, tree sap, insects and pollen. Their metabolism with a high heart rate, fast breathing and body temperature require that they eat frequently. They even eat fast with a tongue that can lick their food 13 times per second.

Part of the fascination with watching hummingbirds is their behavior. They are very territorial and their hilarious antics chasing one another and even larger birds like hawks are fun to watch. I have seen hummingbirds chase one another, being so focused on getting rid of the other bird on their favorite feeder that they have flown right in a suet cake on a feeder or the screen on my porch and getting their beak stuck. All safely survived and went on to defend their territories fiercely, not the least embarrassed about their mishaps.

Historically hummingbirds were killed for their beautiful feathers; today they face different but equally devastating threats of habitat loss and destruction. Many of the species populations have dropped due to habitat loss. Changing climate and temperatures disrupt their migratory patterns which may cause them to end up outside their normal ranges where they may be unable to find food. Luckily, for the hummingbirds there are lots of folks that put up feeders, like me, because we enjoying watching their antics. Both parties benefit.

The joy of watching them is easy for all. Take some sugar (1 cup per 4 cups water), heat it till the sugar dissolves and put in a feeder. Hang in a tree or on a hook and enjoy the beauty of hummingbirds.