Until recently, I had no idea that there were hummingbirds in Massachusetts. But a hummingbird feeder and native plants Cardinal Flower and Bee Balm in my yard have attracted a pair of hummingbirds who hung out all summer long. These little guys (actually the ones I have seen in my yard are both female, unlike some other birds they don’t hang out with the opposite sex after mating is done) almost daily hover less than a foot away from me – but every time I see them it’s like seeing them for the first time. Their gloriously vivid coloration, non-stop high speed fluttering and delicately small size make seeing them an awe-inspiring experience that will literally take your breath away.
I was concerned when Irene hit that some of the birds living in my vicinity would be injured, but all of the “regulars” in my yard including the catbirds, cardinals and woodpeckers seem to have found a good place to hide during that windy event. It is September 9th now and I believe the hummingbirds should be migrating South soon. All hummingbirds you will encounter on Cape Cod are most likely Ruby Throated hummingbirds. The males are more brightly colored than the females, but the females are by no means dull. They are called hummingbirds because of the humming sound their wings make. I have only heard this sound once and I almost fell off my lawn chair – it was flying behind me, right next to my ear and I had no idea what it was. They also make a soft squeaking sound, which is difficult to hear unless you’re close by.
You shouldn’t expect to see a group of hummingbirds, as picturesque as that would be, because they are territorial – males will guard about 1/4 of an acre, sometimes females do the same. Seeing two together in a pair is unusual, the two females who hang together in my yard are either a mother and her young or two siblings that have just ended dependence on their mother.
The hummingbirds will leave us soon and fly down to Central America. These birds can live up to 12 years but usually live 3-5 years. I wonder if the hummingbirds in my yard will come back next year, I hope so! Hummingbirds have the largest brains of all birds and can remember where the flowers are – they also have an innate knowledge about how long the flower will take to “refill” with nectar. So it’s not random when you see them visiting your yard, but right on schedule!
There are over 300 species of hummingbirds, just 16 make it to the US and only 1 species to Massachusetts except for the rare occasion (last year it made the news when a rare Allen’s hummingbird ended up on the wrong coast and was stranded here on Cape Cod in January). We are very lucky to be able to enjoy these petite natural wonders for a few months out of the year.