The small but mighty ruby-throated hummingbird

In celebration of Pollinator Week, today we’re taking a closer look at a fine feathered pollinator, the tiny but mighty ruby-throated hummingbird (Archilochus colubris).

The only hummingbird that sets up housekeeping east of the Mississippi River, this speedy bird is an aerial acrobat. Zooming through gardens and briefly stopping at multiple blossoms to drink nectar, the hummingbird also collects pollen that then gets transferred from flower to flower, plant to plant, helping each plant’s reproductive life cycle.

Fun facts about hummingbirds

A  tiny jewel in flight, the ruby-throated hummingbird is typically around 3.5 inches in size. With its needle-like bill, it prefers tubular flowers, especially red and brightly colored blossoms found on native plants such as firebush, tropical sage, coral bean and trumpet-vine, as well as feeders filled with sweet liquid.

Hummingbirds can beat their wings up to 80 times per second, and their tiny hearts beat up to 1,280 beats per minute, according to Pollinator Partnership, the organization that initiated Pollinator Week. With their high metabolism, hummingbirds clearly need a lot of food. Nectar is their primary sustenance, but they do also eat small insects.

According to the National Park Service, hummingbirds drink up to two times their body weight per day. The ruby-throated hummingbird heads to Central America every winter, and when they migrate in the spring and fall, they need good food fast, especially after traversing the Gulf of Mexico.

“Their migration flights to the north in the spring correspond to flowering times of native plants at their destination. Climate change may affect this synchronization,” the National Park Service says on its web page dedicated to hummingbirds.

This is where we can help hummingbirds, by planting the right plants in the right place, for blooms at the right time.

Bringing hummingbirds into your space

To attract hummingbirds to your yard, plant native wildflowers, vines and shrubs. They are the best species for these zippy birds, which have used them as a food source for centuries. And by planting natives, you are supporting not just one species, but a raft of other species that thrive in natural, diverse ecosystems – from butterflies and beetles to migrating songbirds and resident tortoises. When you plant native, you never know who you might find in your yard!

Read up on these hummingbird-friendly species and more on Florida Native Plant Society’s helpful plant profile section:

Firebush (Hamelia patens)

Tropical Sage (Salvia coccinea)

Coral bean (Erythrina herbacea)

Trumpet-vine (Campsis radicans)

To find more of Florida’s native plants that serve as a food source for hummingbirds, go to the FNPS search engine and type “attracts hummingbirds” in the search box. You may be surprised by how many plants pop up on the list – loblolly bay trees, standing cypress, swamp azalea, yellow jessamine and scarlet hibiscus are just a few of the great plants you’ll see. And because hummingbirds migrate through all sorts of terrain, they’ll seek out nectar from plants found in habitats ranging from sandhill and scrub to wetlands. Plenty of plants offer hummingbirds the nectar they need – and the plants are rewarded by being pollinated by the birds.

As you can expect, Florida Native Plant Society discourages the use of nonnative plants to attract creatures to your yard. Simply put, plants not native to your region can disrupt ecosystems. And, with climate change, widespread development, pollution and other factors already disrupting the environment, why not do what you can to help mitigate that damage?

Tomorrow, we’ll continue our Pollinator Week series with another great pollinator. Will it be a bee? A moth or maybe a wasp? We’re not telling. Pop by tomorrow and find out. See you then!

By Laura Bennett-Kimble, Florida Native Plant Society member-at-large

 

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