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Lots of power in a little package

September 4, 2010
By GARRY BRANDENBURG

The RUBY-THROATED HUMMINGBIRD (Archilochus colubris) is the only hummingbird we are likely to see in the eastern half of the United States. A few other straggler species occasionally show up out of their normal range, but it is the Ruby-throat that delights us with its buzzing sounds and aerobatic antics around the flower garden. For Midwesterners, the iridescent gorget (throat) will show up well if the sunlight strikes it correctly. The tail of a male hummingbird does not have white tips. Female hummer tail feathers do have white tips.

This intensively inquisitive bird will seek out feeder stations, particularly if a red attractant color is present. This author's feeder glass is red; however the sugar water mix inside it is just clear liquid. If I was to wear a read shirt outside and hold a feeder at arms length, I would likely become a hummer perch. I'll have to try that sometime.

Hummingbirds are very territorial and will work hard to keep others of its species away from a food source. If another hummingbird gets close, the chase is on as these little feathered critters zip about at fast speeds. How fast can a hummingbird fly? Well it depends....but if pressed to escape...can exceed 50 mph. Normal flight speed is 30 mph. A hummer in a dive can exceed 60 mph. When the final push comes during the fall migration, hummingbirds will stock up on food and leave the gulf coast states to cross the Gulf of Mexico non-stop to Central America in one 18 to 20 hour long flight.

Article Photos

T-R PHOTO BY GARRY BRANDENBURG
Hummingbirds are one of nature’s little ‘helicopters’ due to their ability to hover in position in front of and at flowers where they feed on nectar. This Ruby-throated Hummingbird was about to enjoy a drink of sugar water at this author’s backyard feeding station. The Ruby throat weighs in at about one-eighth ounce. Its big cousin, the Trumpeter Swan (that ones can see at the Green Castle Recreation Area) can weigh up to 26 pounds.

The ability of a hummingbird to hover is a dramatic testament to the shoulder joint bone structure and muscle arrangement of the wing. The wing can be controlled to rotate forward and back at very fast speeds. When one observes other non-hummer birds trying to hover, their wings work hard and clumsily in an exhausting effort to pull off what they were not designed to do. Hummingbird wings beat at 40 to 80 times per second with an average of 52. High speed video photography can reveal just how intricate the wing movements are to enable a Ruby-throat to stay in one place. It is amazing.

The hummingbird's heart rate goes from about 250 per minute to as much as 1,200 per minute if feeding at hover flight near flowers. The energy it burns to get its food is extensive so it must feed often. Respiration rates are also about 250 breaths per minute. During nights of cooler temperatures, the hummer actually goes into a brief state of torpor when all of its body functions slow considerably.

A hummingbird nest is the size of a walnut, is built only by the female and she uses tree bud scales attached to a tree limb with spider silk. Lichens may camouflage the outside of the nest. The inside is lined with dandelion, cattail or thistle down for a very soft bed. The entire nest can stretch as the young grow in size after they hatch. Incubation takes 12 to 16 days. The young hatch in the order in which the eggs were laid and stay at the nest for as little as 14 days or up 31 days, depending upon food sources and weather related issues. Egg size is about the size of a garden pea. Two to three eggs are normal clutch size. Young hummers will stay with their mother for about 10 days and that is it. After that, they have to make it on their own.

Mom Nature really packed a lot of power into this little package we call the Ruby-throated Hummingbird. What a delightful bird to see and enjoy. So ... enjoy them while they are still here. The average date for departure from Iowa is Oct. 1.

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This list could get very, very long. I'm talking about unusual places where bird nests have been found. Bird houses, hollow trees, the ground itself for those that nest there, are all typical. We expect these locations. But what about the non-typical places a bird nest can show up? A farmer may try to start his tractor only to find a nest on top of the battery. The wheel well of old vehicles will work too. Flower baskets hung from the porch railing can become home territory for a bird nest. Robins seem to find any shelf-like platform good enough to pack in the mud-grass combo that will form the nest. Send me a short description of your most unusual bird nest finding(s) to me at PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005. Let's see how very long this list can grow to. Stay tuned.

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CAMPING this weekend tends to be the last time for some folks this season. Locally, camp grounds close to home are getting much more use due to the uncertainties of the economy. And all this is happening when the budgets of state DNRs and/or local county conservation boards are already strained from weak economies. Just when they need dollars and people the most to help maintain facilities, the money and manpower is not there.

For those that put their campers away in September, they will miss the grandest of fall color change times in October. Iowa will have a great fall leaf color season again in 2010. Look for the best of the best in mid Iowa about the middle of October. Obviously leaf color progresses at its own pace in a gradual manner from north to south. Snowbird campers traveling to Texas or other southerly locations can enjoy leaf color changes for a long time.

Locally, Grammer Grove's leaf color is best viewed by hiking the walking trails. If a road trip is your thing, make a drive along the back-roads (the best kind of roads incidentally) of the Iowa River including the ridge top of Mormon Ridge Road. Fall is a great time to be outside so just do it.

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This author likes to make at least one fall Iowa River canoe voyage from the Forest Reserve boat ramp to Timmons Grove, a distance of about 5.9 miles, or approximately 3 hours of float time. It is a simple half-day float that is relaxing and quiet. Sandbar exploration time is part of the mix. The Marshall County Conservation Board has a brochure on canoeing the Iowa with lots of details concerning put-in and take-out places in Hardin and Marshall County. Plan a fall canoe outing this year. Do check river flow levels from knowledgeable sources before you go. Low water levels are best for canoes. Enjoy.

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ARCHERS desiring to partake in the Marshalltown City deer hunt for 2010-11 need to get all their items of paperwork completed. If the International Bowhunter Safety Course has not been taken, it is the first required step to complete. The course is only available on-line. Once the course is passed, it is good for life. Sept.11 from 9 am until noon is the field day portion of the bowhunter course at the Izaak Walton League. Admission is allowed only if the voucher from a satisfactorily passed on-line course is presented. After those items are complete, the annual re-take of the proficiency test is needed to obtain the city ID card at the Park & Rec. office. The ID card allows an archer to purchase City limits zone doe deer licenses at the General Store. The City has 100 antlerless licenses available for sale for this fall.

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Registration for the MCCB's Canoe/Kayak & Cook program scheduled for Sept. 11 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. has been extended to Sept. 7 by calling 752-5490. MCCB offices will be closed Monday for Labor Day. Enjoy a short float on the Iowa River by canoe or kayak followed by an outdoor cooking demonstration at Three Bridges. Bring your own canoe or kayak or reserve through the MCCB (single kayak $22.50, double kayak or canoe $27) Cost for cooking demo is $4 per person.

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Garry Brandenburg is a graduate of Iowa State University with BS degree in Fish & Wildlife Biology. He is the retired director of the Marshall County Conservation Board. Contact him at PO Box 96, Albion, IA 50005.

 
 

 

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