Everyone knows what a hummingbird is. They are little birds with wings that whirl so fast you cannot see them.
They seem to be an exotic life form somewhere between a bird and an insect.
People on the island of Newfoundland often ask whether hummingbirds occur here.
They may have experienced hummingbirds while visiting friends on the mainland.
People in these areas often hang out a hummingbird feeder on their outdoor deck and are entertained all summer long by visiting hummingbirds.
But are there hummingbirds in Newfoundland?
The answer, of course, is yes, and some of you already knew because you have seen a hummingbird here with your own eyes.
In a nutshell, hummingbirds are present on the island of Newfoundland in small numbers.
They are absent from Labrador.
The ruby-throated hummingbird nests regularly in small numbers in southwest Newfoundland, particularly in the Codroy Valley.
In the rest of Newfoundland, hummingbirds are rare and irregular.
Every summer there are a few good sightings of hummingbirds from flower gardens across Newfoundland as far east as the Avalon Peninsula.
Typically these are one time sightings as they quickly investigate the colourful flowers then move on. If you are lucky they might visit your garden over several consecutive days.
They occasionally nest in parts of Newfoundland outside of the Codroy Valley. Many years ago, a pair actually nested in St. John’s.
A hummingbird sighting is always an exciting moment in Newfoundland.
Margie McMillan was very pleased to see a hummingbird visiting the lungwort flowers in her garden in east St. John’s.
She quickly put up a hummingbird feeder which the bird accepted and stayed around for a couple of more days.
It was a female ruby-throated hummingbird. The females lack the iridescent ruby-red throat patch of the males.
At the same time, Pat Puddister of Pat’s Plants and Garden in Bay Bulls discovered a female ruby-throated hummingbird inside her greenhouse.
It was more or less trapped in a paradise of many hanging plants and tropical warmth for four days before it found the open door to freedom.
This gave birders a rare opportunity to see a hummingbird up close.
Meanwhile, Cliff Doran, on duty as lighthouse keeper at Cape Race, was standing out on the back landing of the house when a hummingbird came buzzing around the red plastic tub used to douse cigarette butts.
It was the first hummingbird Cliff had ever seen and he is outdoors all the time. Bright colours attract hummingbird, sometimes even if an inanimate object.
Three hummingbirds in the space of four days is almost enough to call it an event.
I am expecting to hear about more. Keep an eye on your flower beds. They may visit briefly and then suddenly vanish, leaving you wondering what just happened.
Beware of the hummingbird moth!
This clear-winged insect flies during daylight hours on hot summer days around flower gardens. It looks surprisingly like a little hummingbird. They have brownish bodies, lacking the iridescent green on the back of a hummingbird and, of course, a moth does not have a long beak like a hummingbird.
Some people put up a hummingbird feeder with the hope they will attract a hummingbird. The bigger nationwide hardware or department stores often carry hummingbird feeders. Check the Internet for the proper mixtures of sugar and water to fill your hummingbird feeder if you choose to buy one. Don’t set your hopes too high. I know people who hang a feeder every summer and have yet to see a hummingbird.
Young birds on the go
Over the glorious weekend, a family of juncos moved into my backyard. You could hear the incessant calls of the young birds, but you could not see them. The sound is purposely crafted to make it difficult to pinpoint.
The parent juncos, of course, had no problem. They were hopping over the newly mowed lawn looking for injured insects to feed the hidden young. The young were too big for the nest so they had to move out. They are able to fly short distances but are still dependant on the parents for food and their own ability to keep out of sight from predators.
Other people have reported young robins in their back yards. Like the juncos, the young robins get too big for the nest and jump before they are able to fly well. For a few days after leaving the safety of the nest, they are completely reliant on being fed by the parents.
The young birds are particularly vulnerable at this stage of their life. It is during this period that people with big hearts unknowingly interrupt the natural process of nature. The young robin sitting in the grass in your backyard may look helpless and abandoned but all is well. The adults are probably off looking for food to feed the juvenile robin. True, these young birds are easy targets for cats, but it is still best to leave the bird where you found it and trust that the parents will come back to feed it before a cat finds it.
As we pass the first official day of summer, the state of nesting birds in the province is right on schedule.
The first young birds have left the nest and are meeting the great new world while the majority bird species are still tending nests with eggs that are close to hatching. The lushness of the season is really showing now.
Newfoundland and Labrador is a rich bird producing factory in summer.
Bruce Mactavish is an environmental consultant and
avid birdwatcher. He can be reached at email@example.com, or by phone at 722-0088.