Hail to the hummingbird

August 25, 2013 

Late summer, the days are warm and a tiny bird with a ruby throat hovers midst the summer bloom.

North Carolina’s own ruby-throated hummingbird, a gem among the wide world of birds, is remarkable. Powered by the fastest wing beat of any bird, it’s the only bird capable of flying backward. Yet despite its blurring flutter it is capable of undertaking migrations over 500 miles of open ocean without refueling.

The hummingbird, the smallest of birds, grows to about 3 and a half inches from the tip of its bill to the end of its tail. But it’s ounce-for-ounce among the most pugnacious of birds, quickly and aggressively challenging any trespassers found in its territory. Our ruby-throated hummingbird, despite its dependency on summer insects and the nectar of flowers, has been found capable of surviving year-round along some of the south-facing Carolina coastal regions, possibly undergoing some sort of hibernation.

Early explorers were intrigued by this marvelous bird, an exotic mix of delicacy and strength found exclusively in the New World where it roams from South America to Alaska. William Wood, writing in his 1634 report on the wonders of the New World and its inhabitants, described in his journals: “The ‘humbird’ is one of the wonders of the countrey, being no bigger than a Hornet, yet hath all the dimensions of a bird …. For colour she is as glorious as the Raine-bow; as she flies, she makes a little humming noise like a Humble-bee: wherefore shee is called the Humbird.”

This spectacular Carolina featherweight tips the scales at about the same weight as a penny, yet its worth in wonder is immense.

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