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Elece Hollis - Christian Homeschooling, Home Education

Study Hummingbirds!

  • Elece Hollis Contributing Writer
  • 2005 8 Aug
  • COMMENTS
Study Hummingbirds!

One hot day last summer, I found A hummer parked in my garage--not an SUV, but a bird. Well, he wasn't exactly parked. He was zooming frantically from one wall to another. He had been lured inside, I guessed, by the red release handle hanging on a rope from the electric garage door opener. The poor fellow was about to wear himself out and had no way to eat, so I set out to capture the bird and set him loose. But how do you catch something so fast, so small and so fragile? I opened all the garage doors and windows and let him find his own way out.

The hummingbird--one of the most fascinating birds found in the Americas--is a tiny zipping- zinging treasure of iridescence. John James Audubon called them the "glittering garments of the rainbow." Learning all about these fast and fancy specimens of wonder, their habits, their characteristics, behavior and habitats, how to observe, photograph, sketch, feed and protect these wonderful tiny birds can be an adventure.

If you live on the west coast of North America, or any state west of the Rocky Mountains, you will have the opportunity to observe several different species of hummers. If not, you may be restricted to the only species native to eastern North America--the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

Hummingbird feeders can bring in the hummers and they are popular with bird watchers. But are they safe? How can you attract hummingbirds to watch and photograph? What should you know about the bird? Do they hibernate? What do they eat? How fast can they fly? What amazing facts about their migration can you discover?

Part 1 – Research and Discovery:

Start your study with research at the library. Look for birding magazines that you may check out. These will be the latest source of hummer news and views. Some I would suggest are Birder's World, Bird Watcher's Digest and Wild Bird. There are many good bird books but the best on the subject may be Donald and Lillian Stokes' book titled Hummingbird Book. Another good one is Hummingbird Gardens which is published by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden Publishing. Some others to look for are: Hummingbirds and Their Flowers By K.A. Grant and V. Grant. Hummingbirds of North America By P.A. Johnsgard and The Life of the Hummingbird by A.F. Skutch. Check the adult nonfiction section for bird books and you should find several with sections about hummingbirds and at least two books entirely devoted to the subject. Spend some time reading up on this subject.

Study feeders. Now write an instruction sheet for people considering using feeders. Be sure you give good instructions on how the sugar syrup is mixed. Give warnings about using honey and artificial sweeteners. Why is each dangerous? When should feeders be put up and how often should they be changed? How much of the year should they be up? What types are best? Should you use red food dye? Here is a basic feeder solution recipe. Mix one part white sugar to four parts water. Boil for two minutes and cool completely.

Build your vocabulary by defining these words as they would relate to hummingbirds: nectar, migration, botanic, habitat, range, decurved, distribution, beneficial, hardy, orientation, zones, species, aggressive, emerald, buff-colored, immatures, avian, native, tubular, hover, pollinators, iridescent and incubate.

List the eight major species of hummers found in North America. (Anna's, Costa's, Calliope, Black-chinned, Rufous, Allen's, Ruby-throated and Broad-tailed.) Write their scientific names and try to discover how each was named and why. Find pictures or make sketches of these birds in color. Label each, show the male and female of each and mark your pictures with the M/F symbols. How do immatures differ from the adults of the species? List the eight species that enter the United States but are not considered residents.

Consider the behavior of hummingbirds. Are they territorial? What part does the male bird play in the nest building, and the nesting phase? Define and draw charts that show the dive displays of each species. Study the immigration dates and nesting seasons for your area. Draw North American range maps marking each of the eight main species ranges.

Part 2 – Record Your Findings:
Start a binder to gather information in. I would recommend that you decorate the cover with pictures of hummers. Try your hand at sketching and coloring the birds. The ruby throat is a beautiful bird. Use some glitter crayons to get the sparkly effect. Chose a title for your book and decorate your cover pages. Next make a table of contents. Any category that you would like to study should go into your table of contents. A simple outline of your goals for learning might contain introduction, habitat, characteristics, nesting and young, flight facts, migration, feeders pros and cons, attracting hummingbirds, internet sites, hibernation, and books to read. Use dividers with tabs to divide your binder into "chapters."

Part 3 – Activities:

As a family find some hummingbird sites and take a virtual field trip on the Internet. Two are listed here to get you started:

- www.learner.org/north/spring/1999/
- species/humm/About.html
- www.hummingbirds.com

The following is a site that features pictures of a nesting female through the process and until the baby bird is ready to leave the nest. Study the pictures and write your own version of a hummingbird's story. http://community-2.webtv.net/hotmail.com/verle33/HummingBirdNest Make a listing of your favorite sites.

Look for a hummingbird festival in your area.
- Tucson, Arizona, Festival of Hummingbirds (April)
- Leasburg, Missouri, banding demos (summers)
- Hummingbirds of New Mexico (July)
- St Francisville, Louisiana, Feliciana: Hummingbird Celebration
- Weldon, California, Hummingbird Celebration
- Fort Davis, Texas, Hummingbird Fest

Using a map of north and South America, draw in the migration routes of hummingbirds. How do birds utilize jet streams? How can a small bird survive such an arduous journey?

For an art lesson, besides the sketching and/or photo-shooting of hummers (for which Stokes's Hummingbird Book gives excellent instructions), study the colors of the birds. Make an art piece with strokes and shapes of the various colors. All have such interesting names. Here are some you will see bronze, buff, cinnamon, white, pearl, red, dusk green, violet, chestnut, ebony, purple, black, rufous, green, red-orange, brown, golden, crimson and yellow. The descriptive terms metallic and iridescent should figure into your art piece. Title the artwork after your favorite species of hummer.

A field trip for this project is important. Visit a nursery in your area. Ask about the plants available in your area for attracting hummers. Why are trumpet shapes better? Study the flower shapes, sizes and colors, also the shapes and sizes of petals and whether they hang down or face up or out (orientation). Note the fragrances of the flowers. The hummingbirds, as most birds, have a poor sense of smell. Why would flowers without smell be a favorable feature for hummers? How does the shape of the flower and its orientation encourage and protect the hummers. What trees are best suited for the birds? What colors are the best choices for hummingbirds?

Part 4 – The Garden Project:

This project will take some time. Begin by choosing a suitable place in sight of a window. Bird attracting plantings can be a whole garden of flowers or as little as a hanging basket, or containers of plants that are tempting to the bird.

Select and collect plants (Tip: Red tubular plants planted in groups of three or more are the best--keep dead plant parts pruned). Look for Cape Honeysuckle, Trumpet Vine, Bleeding Hearts, Red Sage, Larkspur, Monkeyflower, Snapdragon, Indian Paintbrush, Fuchsia, Columbine, Coral bells, Sweet Peas and Yucca. Note which you think best suit hummingbirds and why.

Think about materials they will need for nest building and plant fuzzy plants or put out nesting materials. Milk weed and tree lichens are used for nests. Why are these preferable to the birds?

What water sources are important to hummingbirds? How do these birds bathe and how do you think this defines where the birds range? Be sure to provide a water source in your hummingbird garden.

Provide small perches and lichens for nesting, avoid insecticides, prepare and hang a feeder. Try tying bright-colored ribbons and streamers in the garden to attract birds.

Write out a project plan, drawing where water and particular plants will be placed. Consider light, shade, small perching branches and big trees for lichen and perches. Be sure to give yourself a place to watch from. Happy hummingbirding!

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Elece Hollis is a freelance writer and stay-at-home mom. She and her husband Ron of 30 years have 7 children and are in their sixteenth year of homeschooling. They live east of Okmulgee, Oklahoma and south of Tulsa on a 40 acre pecan farm.

This article was originally published in the May/Jun '05 issue of Home School Enrichment Magazine. For more information, visit http://HomeSchoolEnrichment.com. To request a FREE sample copy, visit http://homeschoolenrichment.com/magazine/request-sample-issue.html.