Blog / Bird Education
Spotting a hummingbird in your backyard can be a fleeting but rewarding experience. That’s because hummingbirds do everything in such a hurry that they can be difficult to sight!
Because of their hurried behavior, hummingbirds have been tricky to research and study at length, leading to many misconceptions about how they drink. Did you know that scientists used to believe that hummingbirds used their beaks as a straw? Find out how exactly a hummingbird eats, what their beaks are used for and how much nectar they can consume.
Does a hummingbird have a tongue?
A hummingbird has a tongue that can stretch twice as long as its beak. Their tongues are forked and are lined with lamellae, which are tiny, hair-like barbs that extend outwards as they open their beaks and stick out their tongues. When they retract their long tongue back into their beak, it coils up inside their head, wrapping around their skull. The average hummingbird’s beak can range from 15mm-21mm (.59in-.82in) in length, meaning its tongue can stretch up to 1.6 inches long! [Image credit: Bob Lewis, www.wingbeats.org]
How does a hummingbird drink?
As a hummingbird extends its tongue into a flower, dish or nectar feeder port to drink, the lamellae spread from the forks in their tongue, capturing the nectar by quickly curling back up towards the tongue and trapping it as the tongue fully retracts into their head. Hummingbirds can flick their tongues in and out of nectar as many as 20 times per second!
What do hummingbirds use their beaks for?
If they don’t use their beaks as a straw, then what purpose does a hummingbird’s beak have? Hummingbirds have a flexible lower beak that helps them snatch insects in flight. Some also use their beak for self-defense, often against other hummingbirds for territory assertion. Perhaps the simplest use for a hummingbird's beak is as a protective covering for their tongue.
How much does a hummingbird drink per day?
A hummingbird can consume about half of its body weight in sugar water per day and can feed about 5-8 times per hour.
What do hummingbirds eat?
Have you ever wondered how a hummingbird can live off of sugar water alone? The short answer is - they don't. Even if a hummingbird visits your feeder several times throughout the day, they are often out scavenging for tiny insects and spiders that supply protein and other essential nutrients. A hummingbird’s diet may consist of 50-60% insects. Because of this, we recommend homeowners avoid the use of broad-spectrum pesticides in their yard, as it could potentially eliminate this crucial protein source that makes up a healthy hummingbird diet.
Identifying Baltimore Orioles:
Slightly smaller and more slender than an American Robin, Baltimore Orioles range from 6.7 to 7.5 inches in length and feature long legs, a thick neck, and long pointed bills. Adult male Baltimore Orioles have black feathers on their head and wings, bright orange tell-tale plumage on their chest and underside, and a single solid white bar on each wing. Females and immature males are a more muted yellow-orange with grayish shading on the head, and gray wings with two white bars on each wing.
Above left: A female Baltimore Oriole on a specialized jelly and orange feeder.
Above right: A male Baltimore Oriole on a specialized feeder offering nectar, jelly, and oranges.
Where Baltimore Orioles Live:
Baltimore Orioles are a migratory bird that breed in the eastern portion of the United States and South-central Canada during summer months. Keep an eye out for these birds arriving from early April to mid-May. Their season is short, with some departing as early as late July for wintering grounds in Florida, the Caribbean, and Central America.
How to Attract Baltimore Orioles to Your Feeder:
These birds are often heard more than seen as they typically forage high in trees for insects, flowers, and fruit. They tend to be more skittish than other backyard birds, but you can be successful in attracting them to feeders. One of the simplest ways to attract Baltimore Orioles to your yard is to set up an oriole feeder.
Maintaining a clean feeder is always important for the health of your birds, but is even more important when offering feeds rich in sugar as these feeds can spoil quickly, especially in the hot summer weather. It is recommended oriole feeders be cleaned every 4-5 days. To clean, take down your feeder and discard any unconsumed jelly or fruit. Flush feeder with warm water. Scrub using either a mild solution of unscented dish detergent and warm water, or sanitize using a solution of 9 parts water to 1 part bleach. Rinse thoroughly and allow to dry completely before refilling.
What Baltimore Orioles Eat:
In the spring and fall, a Baltimore Oriole's diet is composed mainly of nectar and ripe fruit. Including flowering trees and shrubs such as crabapple and mulberries in your landscaping can help to draw these birds to your yard. The most common food offering for Baltimore Oriole's are oranges, which can be sliced in half and placed in a specialized feeder, or even nailed directly to a tree (or impaled through a smaller branch). A slightly more specialized feeder can allow the offering of additional feed options, such as nectar (sugar water) and grape jelly.
While breeding and feeding their young, a significant portion of the Baltimore Oriole's diet consists of protein-rich insects. Not overall picky, these birds will consume a wide variety of beetles, crickets, caterpillars, snails, and other small invertebrates. The protein derived from these insects is pivotal in the growth and development of the young, and we strongly encourage withholding the use of broad-spectrum insecticides in your yard to ensure a food source during this crucial stage.
Baltimore Orioles build extremely unique hanging sock-like nests woven together from slender fibers constructed in the slender upper branches of a tree. Typically these nests are 3 to 4 inches deep with a smaller opening on top and a bulging bottom chamber up to 4 inches across where the eggs are laid. Females gather materials for and construct the nest within the territory defended by her mate. Males will occasionally aid in collection of nesting materials which can consist of long grass, strips of grapevine bark, horsehair, as well as artificial materials such as twine or fishing line (*please do not purposefully set out these artificial materials as they are not the safest options for the birds).
Each pair will raise one brood consisting of 3-7 eggs each season. Eggs are roughly an inch in length and 0.6-0.7 inches in width and are a pale gray with black or brown marbling. Eggs typically hatch within 14 days and the young will fledge in an additional 14 days.
Have you seen any Baltimore Orioles on your feeders recently?
National Wild Bird Feeding Month is February. To celebrate, we have asked employees to name their favorite birds. This week's bird is a favorite of Elizabeth, our Customer Service Manager - the Eastern Bluebird.
Identifying Eastern Bluebirds:
Eastern Bluebirds are small, beautifully colored thrushes. Averaging between 6-8 inches in length with a wingspan ranging from 9-12 inches (slightly larger than sparrows but smaller than robins), these blue beauties are fairly easy to identify. They can often be seen perched in a somewhat "hunched" position on wires or fences in fields and open woodlands. The adult male bluebird has a vibrant blue back, head, and tail that are hard to miss, especially during breeding season. A rust colored accent across the throat and breast above the white belly clearly distinguish the Eastern Bluebird from its Mountain Bluebird relative. Female markings mimic those of the male but in more subdued hues - their "blue" can often look more like a shade of grey.
Attracting Eastern Bluebirds:
During much of the year, bluebirds feed mainly on insects like caterpillars, crickets, beetles, spiders, grasshoppers, and worms. They will visit feeders more infrequently when the weather is mild and these food sources are abundant. Their winter diet is heavily dependent on many kinds of wild berries. Making sure to include fruit-bearing shrubs and trees in your landscaping can help to attract these birds. These plants include but are not limited to sumac, blueberries, black cherry, tupelo, currants, wild holly, dogwood berries, hackberries, pokeweed, and juniper berries. Bluebirds can also be attracted to feeders with meal worms or suet.
Erecting a traditional bluebird house can also help to entice bluebirds to your property.
Bluebirds are cavity nesters and they must compete for these spots with other small birds such as chickadees, tufted titmice, and nuthatches. They also have to compete with invasive species such as house sparrows and European starlings. The supply of natural nesting cavities for all these birds has diminished over the years because of habitat loss, the removal of dead trees and limbs, and a shift from the use of wooden fence posts to metal posts. Fortunately, bluebirds readily nest in artificial nest boxes and widespread efforts to provide these boxes have helped reverse dramatic population declines.
While the male Eastern Bluebird makes a big show of carrying material in and out of the nest box and perching on top fluttering his wings, he only does this to attract a female to his nest site. Once he has successfully caught her eye, the female does all of the nest building. Nests can be identified by loosely weaved grasses and pine needles lined with fine grasses and occasionally animal hair. A typical clutch size can be anywhere from 2-7 pale blue eggs. Eggs typically hatch in two weeks, and young birds fledge from the nest in another three weeks. Depending on your location, the birds may reuse the same nest for additional broods. If you're a bird enthusiast and want to watch the nesting process, we recommend getting a special viewing house with an acrylic window to prevent eggs or young Bluebirds from accidentally falling out of the house.
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