For the Birds Radio Program: Hummingbirds (re-recorded from 1986)

Original Air Date: May 11, 1987

This is a re-recording of last year’s program about a tiny, pugnacious bird.

Duration: 3′46″


(From 1987: (Recording of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird).

John Doe is a short, stubby American male with more than one-third of his weight in his chest muscles. His oversized heart is almost 20% of his total body weight, and it beats 1,260 times every minute during moderate activity–his resting pulse is 615 beats per minute. He’s restricted to a liquid diet because of his abnormal metabolism, yet each day he gorges on twice his weight in liquids as sweet as soda pop. Is John headed for big trouble? Nope. He’s just a typical hummingbird.

Hummingbirds are the smallest birds in the world. They’re warm- blooded, but at night can allow their temperature to drop as much as 30 degrees to conserve energy. If a person’s body temperature dropped that much, he’d be dead.

Hummingbirds are not only unique for their size and metabolism– they’re also the only birds that can fly backwards, straight up, and straight down. They don’t really hum–they were named for the droning sound made by their wings in flight. They also make squeaky chipping sounds in flight.

(Recording of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird).

Only one species of hummingbird is normally found in the Northland–the Ruby-throat. The male has an iridescent throat. If the light hits it right, it glitters ruby red, but in dull light can appear black. Females and young have white throats, sometimes lightly streaked with gray. All Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have green backs.

One other species of hummingbird is rarely found in Wisconsin and Minnesota–the Rufous Hummingbird. Last summer a male Rufous spent eight days visiting a sugar-water feeder just south of Zumbro Falls in Wabasha County. An adult male Rufous Hummingbird has an orange back and tail with an iridescent orange-red throat and an orange wash on the sides. The female has a white throat, greenish back, orange sides and a lot of rufous in the tail. I’d sure appreciate hearing from listeners who have ever seen a Rufous Hummingbird in Minnesota or Wisconsin.

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds winter in Mexico and Central America, presumably entertaining Sandinistas and Contras alike. Many of them fly non-stop across the Gulf of Mexico in early spring, and reach the Northland in early and mid-May. Setting out sugar water probably saves a lot of their lives, especially after a cold night.

If you want to feed hummingbirds, now is the time to start. Make a sugar water mixture of one cup of sugar to four cups of water. DON’T USE HONEY–a bacterium which poisons hummingirds grows rapidly in honey.

Hummingbirds are attracted to the color red. You don’t need to add food-coloring to your sugar-water mixture if your use a store-bought feeder with red flowers. But if you put the sugar water in cereal bowls, you better add coloring or the hummers won’t notice it.

Hummingbirds also feed at a lot of garden flowers–fuchsias, columbine, phlox, petunias, honeysuckle, lilies, and nasturtiums, to name just a few. A single hummer will visit as many as 1500 flowers a day, and may even check out the gardener, if he’s wearing a red hat.

(Recording of a Ruby-throated Hummingbird).

This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”