HUMMINGBIRDS EATING FROM THE PALM OF YOUR HAND

Close-up of male Anna's hummingbird
Meet Mr. Glisten, the little male, Anna’s hummingbird that visits the RV every day. My feeder (details about it in the article) attaches to the dinette window so when he visits he’s just inches away.

Hummingbirds on Your Fingers – Flying Emeralds – Jewels in the Sky

This article is about the amazing hummingbird—a few interesting facts, a way for RVers to enjoy them up close and personal, and even how to have them eating out of your hand, literally, and unlike so many who abuse the word “literally” I use it literally.

The lead photo for this article is one I took of a male Anna’s hummingbird that has been coming to visit the RV every day. He comes to a feeder suction-cupped to the window just inches away from the dinette table. I used a zoom lens for this photo then cropped in tighter after it was taken. Unfortunately, the day was cloudy and gray so “Mr. Glisten’s” colors—yes, I’ve named him—don’t pop as they might on a sunnier day, but you get the idea from this larger-than-life photo.

I have an inexpensive Perky Pet window-mount hummingbird feeder made from plastic so it’s light weight and much less likely to break than a glass feeder. It’s perfect for RVers. It takes only a minute, literally–there’s that word again–to set up once camped and comes down just as quickly when it’s time to travel. I don’t even have to go outside. I just open the window and screen to reach outside. In all the months I’ve used the feeder the suction cup has never once failed. It’s easy-peasy and brings so much joy watching these amazing little jewel-like birds up close, right at my window! When the weather warms up and more hummers start coming around I’ll get a couple more feeders to keep up with the demand if need be.

Hummingbird Facts

Now for a few interesting tidbits about hummingbirds… There are some 325 species of hummingbirds worldwide, eight of which are commonly found in the USA. The bee hummingbird is the smallest bird. At about .07 oz., yes seven hundredths of an ounce, a bee hummingbird weighs less than a dime. Despite their small size, hummingbirds in general are incredibly scrappy and will attack jays, crows, and even hawks that infringe on their territory. Why not? Who can catch them? I’ve actually seen a hummingbird harass a red-tailed hawk!

I’ve read hummingbirds remember every flower from which they feed, and not only that, they figure out how long the flowers take to refill with nectar so they can time their feeding visits.

Your heart may beat about 60 beats per minute at rest. A hummingbird’s average heart rate is about 1200 beats per minute. That’s 1,728,000 beats per day. It’s no wonder the tiny things have an estimated average lifespan of but three to five years, but they can live maybe 10.

Hummingbird in the snow
The Anna’s hummingbird is a year-round resident in some parts of the country. Diane photographed our little friend, Mr. Glisten, on our Perky Pet feeder one day in February just after a snowfall of about 12″.

Hummingbirds have no sense of smell but their vision is amazing in terms of the colors they see which is well beyond the spectrum of what we as humans can visualize. They consume about half their weight in nectar daily, but they also eat insects. Some migrate more than 3,000 miles annually and ruby-throated hummingbirds may fly 500 miles non-stop in one day migrating across the gulf of Mexico. Holy cow! Hummingbird’s wings can flap up to 200 times per second. No, not per minute…per second! Say what?!? That’s why their wings are always just a blur to our eyes and it also accounts for the humming sound we hear when they fly near to us. They can fly backwards, hover in place, and they can even fly upside down. During a dive they can reach 60 miles an hour. That’s freeway speed. Oh, for crying out loud! LOL.

Hummingbird Colors

Hummingbird’s are insanely amazing, and the bejeweled males, mind-blowingly colorful. Another surprising fact about hummingbirds is that those amazing colors you see are not the colors of their feathers. How does that work? Well, their feathers are something like prisms. They are full of little bubble like structures and refract light. Depending on the quality of the light, it’s angle, color and intensity, and where you are positioned relative to the bird, you may see an intense shimmering explosion of color, while someone standing at a different place may see a different color or drab gray or black. Some liken the iridescence of hummingbirds to soap bubbles and how they interact with light, changing colors as they float around. Audubon explains it it more detail on this page.

Most of the hummingbird factoids above are from this page on TheSpruce.com . There is more about hummers at Wikipedia and the Audubon Society. Super Hummingbirds, an episode in the PBS TV series Nature is well worth watching.

Feeding Hummingbirds

If you think you would enjoy having their company then consider purchasing a hummingbird feeder or two. Hummingbird feeders dispense liquid food (easily made from sugar and water), not seeds. For RVers, feeder attributes to look for include: small size, light weight, less breakable (plastic) and easy to clean. Then, for those spectacular, inches-away, close-up views from the comforts of your RV, a suction cup feeder that can be attached to your window such as the Perky Pet feeder I have is the way to go. Diane—the woman in my life that makes me seem worth knowing—is excited about having a hummingbird eat out of her hand. This is quite possible and not particularly difficult to arrange. Take your pick of any of these little hummingbird feeders you can hold in your hand. You may need to spend a little time getting the birds used to you before they will readily perch on your finger but there are quite a few videos showing hummers being hand fed, like the one below in which a charm of hummingbirds—yes, charm, that’s what you call a group of hummingbirds, how appropriate—swarms the hand-held feeder. I bought these feeders for hand-holding.

With a small feeder you can have hummingbirds eating out of your hand.

The next video includes some tips on how to acclimate hummers to your presence and in less than an hour have them feeding out of your hand.

On the subject of feeding hummingbirds, now this takes just a little care. While it’s simple to make nectar for them—by volume, 1 part white sugar dissolved in 4 parts water, brought to a boil to kill pathogens then allowed to cool—it’s important to keep their food fresh and the feeders clean or they will either stop coming to your feeder or worse, fall victim to a pathogen that may grow in the sugar rich nectar. Audubon Society has more information about feeding hummingbirds.

On the subject of hummingbird food, commercial nectar mixes sold in stores sometimes contains food coloring and/or preservatives, so I don’t like them for those reasons. At least one brand advertises the preservative in their food as “naturally-occurring”. So what? That doesn’t mean it’s good to ingest. Arsenic is naturally occurring too and it will kill you. It’s easy to make your own food from the recipe above and Audubon recommends it as the best. Refrigerate some in a small jar if you like, and let it warm up to room temp or so before using it. Although these tiny birds feed many times each hour they don’t consume very much, so unless you have quite a few coming to your feeders a few tablespoons of nectar will last for days and you may have to replace it because it’s getting old rather than because it’s been consumed.

Naomo hummingbird feeders
I bought these Naomo hummingbird feeders for the purpose of holding them in-hand. Feeding the little birds this way just seems like such a thrill. The nectar reservoirs of these feeders pop into the rubber suction cup holders that can be attached to your windows, or they can be hand held or placed on a flat surface. Note, however, that the design of the holders does not allow the hummingbirds to feed while perched on the holder because the perch is not well positioned in that regard. I bought these for hand feeding, however, so that didn’t matter to me so much. In order to feed from these when attached to a window the birds must hover mid air. The red beads are intended to attract the birds. Whether or not they actually succeed at this I have no idea.

Keep your feeders clean and the food fresh to keep your hummers coming back and to protect them from disease. Wash feeders when you change food including the little holes the birds feed through. The tiny little bottle brushes that come with some of the hand feeders are perfect for that job. I’ve come across recommendations to use a mixture of 10% household bleach to 90% water to disinfect feeders. There are many pages online about hummingbirds and feeding them with more information beyond the basics I have provided here. One thing I will mention is that if you will be someplace where temperatures may cause the nectar in feeders to freeze then having a second feeder and rotating feeders indoors-to-outdoors can help keep the hummers fed.

Of course, you will want to know what time of year hummingbirds are in your neck of the woods. In some places they are year-round residents, in others they migrate through seasonally. With spring on the way many places will soon see lots of hummers around. There’s probably an Audubon Society chapter not too far from you with its own local web site and phone number you can call to learn more about hummingbird activity in your area. Here is the link to the Audubon chapter finder.

When Not to feed Hummingbirds

On a closing note, there may be circumstances when feeding hummingbirds (and/or other birds) is not recommended such as when there is an outbreak of disease that can be spread at feeders. So, staying in touch with Audubon and news media is a responsible thing to do. Barring that eventuality I for one cannot imagine anyone not being delighted by hummingbirds eating from the palm of their hand.


Edit 3/1/21: As an afterthought I decided to add the video below. While it has nothing to do with hummingbirds it does have to do with some birds equally amazing in their own ways. If you aren’t familiar with New Guinea’s Birds of Paradise this four and a half minute clip narrated by Sir David Attenborough will probably blow your mind.

A quick look at a few Birds of Paradise

Addendum 3/22/22: Diane, my better half, who was a Head Start preschool teacher and is an author of marvelous children’s books has her own blog, PizzaBoxBooks that is largely dedicated to children’s education. Today she made a post that includes links to some fun and educational stuff about birds for the whole family.


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