Floridian Nature

Learn about Florida's beautiful and unique nature.

Florida Nature: Hummingbird Plants
Hummingbirds live only in the Americas. Of the 338 species known, 16 are found in the United States and 3 occur in Florida. Black-chinned and rufous hummingbirds occasionally can be seen in Florida during the winter. The ruby-throated hummingbird is by far the most common hummer in the state. This feathered jewel is about 3 inches long and weighs as little as a penny. Its name describes the most brilliant part of the mature male's plumage. The throat feathers contain air bubbles that give off an iridescent red tone in full light. Both sexes, young and mature birds, have metallic green backs and white-tipped tail feathers.

The ruby-throat's breeding range extends from central Kansas to the east coast and from Saskatchewan to central Florida. Although some birds may stay in south Florida year-round, most winter in Mexico and South America. Males arrive in Florida in March. Females arrive about a week later.

Nesting in Florida begins in April. The nest is a walnut-size structure of plant down, adorned with lichens, moss, and bound with spider webs or fine plant fibers. Nests frequently are built over water. The female lays 2 eggs less than inch  long. After 20 days of incubation and 4 weeks of growing, young hummingbirds leave the nest. One of the most fascinating things about hummingbirds is their helicopter-like flying stunts. Not only can hummers suspend their bodies in midair, they can also fly backward, upward, even upside down. These maneuvers are possible because of an unique design that allows the wing to move very freely and in almost any direction at the shoulder. Soaring is the only maneuver they can not perform. Contrary to popular belief, hummingbirds do not hum. The sound is made by their rapid wing movements (50-200 beats per second).

To acquire enough strength to support all of this high-speed activity, hummingbirds need to consume large amounts of high-energy food. Adult hummingbirds feed primarily on nectar. Nectar is an energy-rich food that is used rapidly. One hummingbird may need nectar from hundreds of blossoms every day to maintain its body weight. Long needlelike bills and specially adapted tongues allow them to reach nectar in deep tubular flowers. The last half-inch of the long tongue is divided into equal halves, each grooved on the outside edge to form two tube-like structures. Nectar is drawn into the tongue much the same way liquid travels up a straw. Hummingbirds can lick at a rate of 13 times per second, and their stomach is capable of holding about 0.18 ounces of nectar at one time. They also feed to a lesser extent on insects.

For their size, hummingbirds have among the largest appetites in the bird world. They feed every 10 or 15 minutes from dawn until dusk. During this period, they eat more than half their weight in food and 8 times their weight in water. Hummingbirds have developed 2 adaptations to help them survive the hours of darkness when they cannot feed. First, they eat as much as they can just before dark. During the night, their heart rate and body temperature drop to conserve energy. If they did not go into this sort of daily hibernation stage, they likely would starve.

butterfly milkweed, a florida native plant to attract hummingbirdsButterfly Milkweed (Asclepius tuberose)- A wonderful plant to attract butterflies and colorful native bees and wasps, this stunning orange-blooming wildflower prefers dry soils and full to partial sun. A favorite food plant of the caterpillar stage of the Monarch butterfly, this species grows to about 2' in height. This is a native perennial plant that is 1-3' tall. It may develop as a single central stem, particularly when young, or branch outward to form a small bush in appearance. Older plants tiller at the base, with multiple stems emerging from the large taproot. The alternate leaves are medium green or yellowish green, and slightly shiny notwithstanding the presence of tiny hairs. They are linear or broadly linear in shape, about 3" long and " wide, with smooth margins. The Ruby-Throated Hummingbird seeks nectar from the flowers

The Floridian cardinal flower, a hummingbird favoriteCardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)- Cardinal flower grows native along streambeds all over the Southern United States and is a real treasure in the garden by providing one of the truest reds available. It thrives in areas where other perennials would rot and adds bold color to shady corners of the garden. Cardinal flowers also boast a long bloom time, which is a huge bonus as the plant also attracts hummingbirds. The delicate looking, but boldly colored flowers create a strong presence near water features or planted in masses. A perennial which features erect, terminal spikes of large, cardinal red flowers on unbranched, alternate-leafed stalks, the cardinal flower rises typically to a height of 2-3 feet. Tubular flowers are 2-lipped, with the three lobes of the lower lip appearing more prominent than the two lobes of the upper lip. Finely-toothed, lance-shaped, dark green leaves are up to 4" long. Flowers are very attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds, but not cardinals. White and rose colored forms are also known.
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