Ruby-throated Hummingbird Notecard

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Model: NC-26
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Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) and Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)

The wild columbine, occurring from Canada through Georgia, is a beautiful woodland flower often found growing precariously among rock crevices. Its red color helps attract ruby-throated hummingbirds, which feed on the large amount of nectar contained in the backward pointing spurs. As the darting acrobats flash from flower to flower, their bill and facial feathers transfer the pollen from one flower to the next. Thus, while the hummingbirds depend on the flowers for food, the flowers depend on the hummingbirds to effect pollination; a good example of coevolution.

The ruby-throated hummingbird is the only hummingbird species that breeds east of the Mississippi. Ruby-throats are about 3 ½ inches long and weigh but a fraction of an ounce; the male is slightly smaller than the female and has a brilliant , iridescent red throat. The dazzling coloration derives from feather structure rather than pigmentation and is noticeable only at certain orientations. The hummingbird's primary food supply is nectar, although they do eat occasional insects. They extract nectar by reaching deeply into flowers with their highly extensible tongues. Hummers have an incredibly high metabolism and must visit thousands of flowers each day to obtain the sugars necessary for sustenance. At night the hummingbird enters a torpid state to conserve energy, and its metabolism drops to less than 10% of its daytime rate.

Hummers are delightfully quick and graceful. Their unique wing structure makes them extremely maneuverable and allows them to hover motionless or reverse direction. Their rapid wingbeat (over 3,000 per minute) produces a humming sound for which the family is named. During the ruby-throats' courtship, the female perches attentively while the male performs a spectacular pendulum-like dance. Females construct the small, beautifully- intricate nest using such materials as lichens for camouflage, spider webs for reinforcement, and fine down for lining. During the late summer, these hummers add to their fat reserves to prepare for their winter migration. Some will cross the Gulf of Mexico, a span of over 600 miles!

artwork and text by Steve Sierigk © 2001

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