Ruby-throated hummingbird feeding on yellow bells in the Texas Hill Country
© Rolf Nussbaumer/Danita Delimon
Tiny fliers head south
The ruby-throated hummingbird in today's homepage image is snacking on some yellow bells in the Texas Hill Country, preparing for its long journey south for the winter. This time of year, the hummingbirds leave the northern latitudes of the eastern US and Canada, migrating to the warmer climes of Mexico and Central America. Along their route, many will cross the Gulf of Mexico in a single 500-mile flight, which can take 18-22 hours of nonstop flying at speeds of up to 35 miles per hour. Tiny but fierce, the ruby-throated hummingbird weighs less than a nickel. It beats its wings about 53 times a second on average, but during courtship the wingbeat rate increases to 200 times per second, the fastest of any bird.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds can eat twice their weight each day in sugar from flower nectar and feeders, with the occasional insect making up the rest of their diet. In the weeks before the migration, hummingbirds begin to eat more than usual to put on weight. The migration isn't triggered by the amount of food available, but by the length of daylight. The male hummingbirds start migrating first, and a few days or weeks later, the females and young follow. If you live along the migration route, you can help hummingbirds prepare for the journey by growing nectar flowers or putting out a hummingbird feeder—and you just might be paid a visit by these tiny fliers along their journey.