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Enjoying Hummingbirds in the Wild and Captivity

Hummingbirds have provided some of my most memorable bird-watching and bird-keeping experiences.  While most birders are aware that they can be lured to special feeders, it is less well-known that there is also great interest in keeping hummingbirds in captivity.

Hummingbirds in Zoos

When I began working with hummingbirds in zoos, I was quite fearful that I would not be up to the task of caring for such obviously delicate little birds. While captives do have very specific requirements, I soon found out that these dynamos were surprisingly hardy.

With the ability to speed forward and backwards on wings that beat up to 78 times per second, hummingbirds seem to “know” that nothing can catch them.  They are, therefore, quite bold.  Anna’s hummingbirds were remarkable in this regard – approaching to within in a few inches of my face when I entered their exhibit, and very carefully travelling up and down my body from head to feet. Needing to consume at least half their weight in food each day, hummingbirds are always hungry and readily fed from nectar tubes that I held out to them.

Hummingbirds in Private Aviculture

Not surprisingly, serious aviculturists have long sought to keep these unique, brilliantly colored birds in captivity.  Although none can be classified as simple to maintain, several species are well-established in private collections.

Of these, the sparkling violet-eared hummingbird (Colibri coruscans) is perhaps the best known.  At 5 ½ inches, it is quite large for a hummer.  Like all, however, it needs a large, spacious greenhouse or aviary in which to live, and must be supplied with live fruit flies and other tiny, flying insects (in addition to nectar) if it is to thrive.

Hummingbird Feeders

Over 320 species of hummingbirds range from Alaska to the southern tip of South America.  Thirteen species nest in the USA with only one, the ruby throated hummingbird, occurring east of the Mississippi River.

The easiest way for most of us to enjoy hummingbirds is to observe them in the wild.  Fortunately, many take readily to hummingbird feeders  stocked with specially formulated hummingbird nectar.  Give hummingbird feeding a try – assuming they show up, you will not be disappointed.

Further Reading

You can learn more about hummingbird natural history at the web site of Cornell University’s Laboratory of Ornithology.


Image referenced from Wikipedia and originally posted by Wolfgang Wander

About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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