Life With Ferris: Spectacular Hummingbirds

Saturday, July 12, 2014 - by Ferris Robinson
Ferris Robinson
Ferris Robinson

Hummingbirds are one of God's tiniest creatures, but also one of His most amazing creations. Called flying jewels by early Spanish explorers, these iridescent birds are the only birds that can fly both forward and backwards. They can also hover in mid air, fly sideways and even upside down. The smallest animal with a backbone, some species of hummingbirds travel 500 miles nonstop over the Gulf of Mexico as they migrate. Their tiny bodies are incredibly powerful, but their feet are so weak they can barely walk on them; they are basically used for perching only. 

These little birds fly about 25 miles per hour, but when they dive, they increase that speed to 60 miles per hour. All that talent in something that can weigh as little as a penny, but not more than a silver dollar. 

These birds are worth much more than their weight in gold to me. They are not only highly entertaining, but are absolutely fascinating.

We don't have names for our hummingbirds; we can't even tell them apart. We assume they are Ruby-throated hummingbirds, the most common type for our area, but they could be rare Spatuletail hummingbirds for all I know. It doesn't matter. No exotic bird could be as memorizing as ours.  

They drink more than their weight in sugar water each day, and the way they battle over the feeder, you'd think it was the only supply on Lookout Mountain. I read on the internet how to train them to drink out of your hand. Hide your feeder and hold a red milk jug lid in our outstretched hand. It may take days of sitting perfectly still outdoors with your arm up in the air, but eventually the hummingbird will light on your hand and drink from the lid.

My hummingbirds are too smart to fall for this. Scientists say the minute birds are attracted to the color red. Hibiscus blossoms, bee balm, pineapple sage, and bright red feeders lure the bird to drink. But my hummingbirds come to my porch whether the feeder is there or not. We bring it in every night because of raccoons (they might be equally entertaining but we can't stay up late enough to know) and we put if back out every morning, bright and early. 

But we wake to the sounds of the minuscule birds dive-bombing the corner of the porch where the feeder is supposed to be. They hover impatiently in the square foot of airspace, defending the possibility of nectar, without a hint of red in sight. 

One of them actually peeks in our bedroom window, whirling his wings so rapidly they are a blur. "What the heck? Where's the food?" he seems to say. He reminds me of my brood at dinner, all perched at the table, forks in hand, actually saying out loud, "What the heck? Where's the food?"

For some reason the hummingbird is cute when he does this. My brood is not. 

Similarly, I am amused at the hummingbird’s intolerance of other birds at the feeder, yet irritated at my offspring’s intolerance of other offspring at the serving bowl.  

As if a single bird could possibly drink 1,000 times its own volume. They are not smart that way. Rarely do we see two of them perched at the same time, even on opposite sides of the feeder. They dive bomb one another midair, battling each other mercilessly for the territory outside my bedroom window.

My boys do the same thing with it comes to the X-box. To hear them carry on about the extra controller, you'd think there was a vat of sugar water at stake.

(Ferris Robinson can be contacted at

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