It has been great to welcome back the sun and dispel some of the gloom resulting from the record number of rainy days we’ve had. Watching the ruby-throated hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) in my yard and at nature reserves is also a day brightener and has taught me that these tiny avians are quite fastidious, grooming often and at length.
They cannot use their feet to hop or walk; they only cling to perches and shuffle a bit.
They do use their claws as a “comb” to groom their heads and necks and to scratch itches.
Using oil from a gland near their tail, they cover their iridescent feathers with the oil to help clean them.
When you see them rubbing their long beaks on a twig, they are wiping off debris and pollen.
The youngest birds have a groove in their beak but this smooths out by the winter.
When the hummers look up in the sky, while sitting all puffed up on a branch, they may be taking a sun bath.
A tiny catnap – or hummer nap – can also be observed now and then. This is understandable since their little hearts beat at 1220 times per minute while they fly; this lessens to about 250 times per minute when they are at rest.
You can sometimes tell the sex of the hummingbird by its tail feathers. The tips are white and rounded in both females and first-year males, who do not yet have fully colored throats
In the adult males, the tail feathers have sharp black points.
The red gorget (throat) feathers that give this species its common name are seen in the adult males. Very occasionally, a female will have one or two black or one red feather there, but it is generally a young male that has one red throat feather.
After nesting, females may look somewhat tattered and molt their feathers, like this one in July. The regular molting period is autumn through about March and that is when the juvenile males develop their their red throats.
Both female and male ruby-throated hummers have a small patch of white feathers behind their dark eyes.
One thing is for sure – all these little avians are beautiful to see and watch!