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Secrets of the Jeweled Flyers

Updated: Jul 4, 2021

Hummingbirds. We all know them. The males in their jewel-colored plumage. The females cloaked in emerald greens. But the males have a secret to their ruby or sapphire plumage. In fact Blue Jays, bluebirds, Indigo Buntings, Blue Grosbeaks, and any bird with blue in their plumage have something in common. Their blues aren't really blue. Wait, so I'm telling you that birds that are blue or have blue in their plumage aren't really blue? That's right. Hang on, isn't this supposed to be about hummingbirds? Yep. Okay so we know that birds aren't really blue so how does that tie in to hummingbirds and their looks. Right, look at the two pictures of the hummingbirds below. The pink on the head looks different right?

Well these two hummingbirds are the same species called a Anna's Hummingbird. So why do the pinks look different. Here's the answer to that question—The feathers on a male hummingbirds throat and head are called gorgets, but the gorgets are not colored by pigments like Cedar Waxwings, who get their colors from the berries that they eat. So if the gorgets aren't colored by pigments then what are they colored by? Okay now here's the real answer to where hummingbird males get their colors. Male hummingbirds get their colors from the gorgets that reflect light. Wait male hummingbirds attract females by reflecting light off their gorgets? Yep. Gorgets have microscopic ridges on them. When light moves over the ridges then the gorgets look colored. Okay so how do they make different colors? Well the ridges can have different sizes or densities that make the different colors such as red, pink, orange, purple, and blue. So don't most birds sing to attract females. Yes, most birds do sing to attract females. Some, such as Macgregor's Bowerbird: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eg0iSIHIK34, can even imitate human speech and children playing. Wait what about the hummingbird? What songs does it use to impress the ladies? Confession time. Hummingbirds do not have the vocal capabilities of Macgregor's Bowerbird. They don't really use song to woo their ladies. Hummingbirds use their colors to woo and to have territorial disputes with rival males. Anything else? Well not really. If you're looking to attract hummingbirds to your yard then here are some helpful tips. When choosing a feeder. Make sure that your feeder is red or has mostly red and some yellow, such as the center of the flowers. This will deter wasps and bees that also come to feeders. Wasps and bees deter hummingbirds at feeders. When you make your nectar solution use the ratio, water to sugar, 4:1. so for every four cups of water there would be one cup of sugar. Leftovers can be saved for up to a week. To find which hummingbirds live in your area and how to best attract them check out this website: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/browse/shape/Hummingbirds.

In order: Male Rivoli's Hummingbird; Male Ruby-throated Hummingbird; Male Callilope Hummingbird; Male Rufus Hummingbird; Male Anna's Hummingbird; Male Anna's Hummingbird














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