Wild Things: It's Not Too Early to Spot Hummingbirds

Another sure sign of spring is the return of ruby-throated hummingbirds to DuPage County, according to District naturalist Abby Dean. These amazing birds can fly up to 60 miles per hour and flap their wings 40 ‒ 80 times per second in a figure-eight pattern.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are bright emerald or golden-green on the back and crown, with gray-white underparts. Males have a brilliant iridescent red patch on their throat.

Weighing a mere .1 ‒ .3 ounces, hummingbirds are the smallest of all birds. There are 320 species in the Americas, but the ruby-throated hummingbird is the only one typically found in Illinois, Dean said. 

They are master flyers that can fly straight and fast but also stop instantly, hover and adjust their position up, down or backwards with exquisite control.
Hummingbirds overwinter in Central America and fly over the Gulf of Mexico all in one flight. To prepare for the trek, they double their weight one week before their flight, Dean said.

Hummingbird nests — the size of a golf ball with eggs the size of peas — are equally impressive and nearly impossible to spot. The female builds the nest using soft downy plant fibers like dandelion seeds and glues it all together using spider webs. They then line the outside with lichen to give it a natural camouflage and hard to spot with the naked eye, Dean said.

Hummingbirds can be heard by the “hum” of their flapping wings, similar to the sound of a light saber, Dean said. You can also hear their “chatter,” which sounds like high-pitched dolphin chatter, she said. To hear the sounds of a hummingbird, visit Cornell Laboratory’s allaboutbirds.com.

To attract hummingbirds to your yard, install a brightly colored hummingbird feeder. You can make nectar by using one part sugar to four parts water, Dean said. You don’t need to use red dye in the liquid, as hummingbirds will be attracted to the brightly colored feeder. 

Hummingbirds are in Illinois from roughly May to September or October. While there have been scattered hummingbirds in Illinois in March, they typically arrive in the area in May. You can track their migration on hummingbird.net.

Dean shares some interesting facts about hummingbirds and how to attract them to your yard on Wild Things on WDCB Radio (90.9 FM).  


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