LOS ANGELES — The world’s smallest bird can take up a big chunk of a spring to-do list: Trim the trees, weed the garden, make the nectar and hang the feeders.
With spring, hummingbirds make their way north after migrations that took many of them more than 500 miles across the Gulf of Mexico. They will return to the same yards where they have stayed in the past.
“They are fascinating. I call them nature’s miracle. They have all these disadvantages (size, enemies, flying solo), yet they are thriving and have all these incredible abilities,” said John Schaust, chief naturalist for Wild Birds Unlimited nature shops, which are based in Carmel, Ind.
Although hummingbirds are not traditional pets in the sense that they cannot be caged, clothed or leashed, enthusiasts consider the tiny colorful birds as pets that they feed, watch and fuss over.
It’s illegal to sell or keep a hummingbird as a pet, but people who put out food and feeders and make their properties bird-friendly care about them like pets, Schaust said.
A good reason why hummingbirds shouldn’t be caged like canaries or parakeets is that it would die if it weren’t free to fly and feed, said Dr. Laurie Hess, a Bedford Hills, N.Y., veterinarian for birds and exotic pets.
A hummingbird, which weighs a tenth of an ounce, has to visit between 200 and 1,000 flowers a day to survive, depending on the size of the bird and amount of nectar in the flower, said Ethan J. Temeles, a professor of biology at Amherst College in Massachusetts. Nectar is available in many stores, along with bird feeders, but concoctions can be made at home with four parts water to one part sugar, Schaust said.
Anyone who wants to attract hummingbirds to their yards should avoid pesticides in their gardens, since the birds need nectar and small bugs, and residue can easily be carried back to its nest, said Monique Rea of San Juan Capistrano, a volunteer hummingbird rehabilitator.
Devotees say the rewards of preparing for the birds are handsome, among them watching their flight. Hummingbirds flap their wings 20 to 80 times a second in a figure-eight motion to get lift going up and coming down.
They can fly forward, backward, right side up and upside down
“It’s just amazing to me that they can beat, breathe, hover and still be able to eat, but they do,” said Hess.
This Feb. 2003 photo shows a mother Annaís hummingbird caring for it's nest in Los Angeles. The smallest bird in the world weighs a tenth of an ounce, has a brain the size of a BB, wobbly legs and enemies like the praying mantis and bull frog. Even so, millions of humans will spend countless hours this spring and summer watching, feeding and worrying about the hummingbirds mating and nesting in their backyards. (AP Photo/Nick Ut)×