Believe it or not, hummingbirds do have songs-well, sort of. They don’t have a large enough voice box to create vocalizations like other birds. But they do communicate very efficiently nonetheless. My Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds use squeaks, twitters, ‘chitters’ and whirrs in different ways.
Research now confirms the unthinkable. My returning hummingbirds have flown non-stop, over more than 600 miles of water in the Gulf of Mexico in hopes of finding nectar sources when they finally reach land! And if that isn’t enough, they continue their migration northward to end up in my yard, and points north as far as Canada. This is why I so appreciate the stamina and sheer fortitude of this tiny flying jewel.
When my hummingbirds first arrive in May and find a full nectar feeder in the same spot as last year, they actually fly very close to my face at eye level and hover for 3 or 4 seconds. They quickly speed off to the feeder and take a long drink, then several short sips before flying to another part of the yard. All the while they emit a kind of bubbly chatty twitter that is slightly different from their other sounds. It’s such a happy little sound that I can’t help but feel their joy to have finally made it ‘home’ again safely.
Spotting another diner at what they perceive to be their personal nectar feeder, they approach quickly with a high-pitched series of squeaks. I’ve watched as both females and males indulge in this behavior. Presumably those sounds serve as a warning alert to the intruder as well as any other hummingbirds near enough to hear them.
After successfully chasing away the usurper, they fly off to land on a nearby branch awaiting the next territorial invader. While in flight they utter twittering sounds in sets of 2 or 3 separate segments, which are sometimes repeated for emphasis; as if to say, ‘put that in your pipe and smoke it’!
Now when it comes time for the male to court the female, he performs a magical pendulum dance in mid-air that is fascinating to witness. The female sits motionless and seemingly mesmerized as the male flies in a ‘u’-shaped arc. An ‘other-worldly’ whirring sound like those made in the old sci-fi alien spaceship movies can be easily heard if you listen for it. Rather than a vocal sound, this whirring is made from the movement of air passing over the hummer’s tail feathers as he performs his amazing aerial ballet.
I have learned to listen and watch for this wondrous maneuver a couple of weeks after the females have arrived. You see the males usually return approximately one week before their potential mates. For the sake of survival of the species, male hummingbirds will court another female as soon as their ‘mates’ have laid their eggs. They take no part in feeding or raising the young.
Have you ever seen hummingbirds ‘sword fighting’ as they ascend vertically? I have watched as males and females both engage in this curious non-lethal battle. They use their long beaks for more than just sipping nectar and picking spiders out of webs. While climbing higher and higher, their beaks cross back and forth just like dueling swordsmen!
These little powerhouses are feisty characters indeed. During these aerial battles, you can hear a more low-pitched series of twitters uttered all the way to the top of the flight. Each then speeds away: one back toward their territory and the feeder, and the other disappears into the distance. These conflicts occur quite often on the warmer days of summer.
While sitting on the clothesline in a rain shower, hummers frequently spread their tails and shake them. They do the same for their wings and head. You can tell they are really enjoying the warm water cascading over their feathers as they make their constant rain ‘squit ‘sounds. I think this is equivalent to singing in the shower for them!
You can tell I appreciate and enjoy my hummingbirds and all their sounds. I look forward to their arrival each year, and plan my outdoor activities to make sure I’m on hand to greet them when they get here. Like old friends who have been apart for a long time, we are very happy to see each other again!