Nature Notes – Issue 02

Flying Jewels Soon to Arrive

By Jill McDonald
Female Hummingbird at Feeder, Photo by Jill K. McDonald

With their iridescent glow, as the sunlight beautifully reflects off their delicate soft-feathered body, these tiny creatures are a sight to behold! Moving at speeds of 25 mph or more, and normally beating its wings around 75 times per second, the ruby throated hummingbird is a tiny marvel of nature!

Nicknamed “flying jewels” by early Spanish explorers, the adult males have ruby-colored throats that glisten in the sunlight, however in the shade their throats appear black. Females, on the other hand, have white throats. Immature adult males will appear to have black speckles on their throats.

Throughout the world there are over 300 species of hummingbirds, with 25 of those species occurring in the United States. However, the ruby-throated hummingbird is Michigan’s only regularly occurring species and the only species that breeds east of the Mississippi River. 

Due to their unique structure, hummingbirds move their wings in a figure-eight motion and are the only birds that can fly backwards. 

For a fun experiment, find a variety of pocket change. In your hand, try the following:

  • Place only one penny – this is the average weight of a ruby-throated hummingbird.
  • Place only one nickel – this is their average weight before migration. (They need reserve energy to fly 500 miles non-stop to Central America!)
  • Place only one quarter – this is the average diameter of their nest, cup area.

Speaking of their nest, the construction is unique to say the least! Their tiny golf ball-size nest is intricately constructed with soft leaves, lichen, and then woven together with spider silk! This allows the nest to stretch as the babies grow, usually two jellybean-size eggs!

Their diet consists primarily of flower nectar, but also includes small insects, such as mosquitoes and gnats. 

If you’d like to attract hummingbirds to your yard, here are some tips to help you get started:

  • Provide nectar-rich plants: Hummingbirds especially love tubular-shaped red, pink, and orange flowers.
  • To make homemade (imitation) nectar: Mix 1 part white granulated sugar to 4 parts boiling water, allow to cool in the refrigerator before using, and store in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Important Tips:
  • Do not substitute anything for sugar listed above.
  • Do not add red (or any) food coloring. (Real nectar is clear; it’s the bright flowers and feeders that attract the birds.)
  • If your nectar becomes cloudy, it is past time to clean and change it. (Change feeders every 2-3 days; keep extra in the refrigerator for up to a week.)
  • Keep your feeders clean – wash with warm soapy water and rinse thoroughly. (A baby bottlebrush and pipe cleaner work wonders to clean feeders!)

As the middle of April draws near, I can’t help but think, “Tax Day to Halloween,” as stated by Allen Chartier, founder of Great Lakes Hummer Net in southern Michigan. He’s stated at programs that Tax Day to Halloween is the time to have your hummingbird feeders out and ready! 

Hummingbird in Nest, Photo by Jill K. McDonald

For further information on hummingbirds, here’s sharing a few resources I enjoy:,, and

For more information on bird ID, check out Cornell University’s website

Jill K. McDonald is a freelance nature & travel educator, writer, photographer, and speaker. She can be reached by email at or connect with her on Facebook at:

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