Tiny Jewels Aflutter

For many in the South, hanging a hummingbird feeder is a ritual rite of spring. While many of us appreciate the hummingbird’s Lilliputian size — an adult before migration weighs less than the nickel in your pocket and is only 3 1/2 inches long from beak to tail — these incredible creatures are amazing in myriad ways.

Early Spanish explorers aptly named hummingbirds joyas volardores, or “flying jewels.” Interestingly, their jewel-like hues are produced by iridescence, not pigment. The hummingbird’s color can change depending upon the beholder’s angle and the light source, which is one way industrious males protect themselves in the wild.

The 343 species of the Trochilidae family are a uniquely American treasure, found only in the Western hemisphere. Many migrate yearly from Canada to Panama — including the Gulf of Mexico’s 500-mile span. To fuel this flight, hummingbirds eat not only nectar but also spiders and gnats plucked from midair.

The trademark “zinging” sound of hummingbirds’ motion is produced by their unique wings, which can rotate in a circle, allowing them to fly forward, backward, up, down, sideways and upside-down — and even to hover.

The hummingbirds that visit your backyard this spring may well be looking for a place to nest. The female lays only two eggs at a time and produces only one brood per year. Look for her distinctive nest, which is made from spider webs, leaves, moss and tiny twigs.

Hummingbirds can live for more than a decade in the wild, so treat them well now and they may just return to brighten your window next year.

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