Monthly Archives: June 2014

What Animal on Earth has the Fastest Metabolism? 10 Things You Might Not Know about Hummingbirds

An immature male ruby-throated hummingbird.

An immature male ruby-throated hummingbird.

In my opinion, hummingbirds are one of the most amazing birds on earth. One of my favorite things about summer is getting to watch them at my feeders, buzzing around like miniature helicopters. To learn more about how you attract hummingbirds to your yard, Click HERE.

What do you know about this tiny bird? Here are a few facts:

1. Ruby-throated hummingbirds beat their wings 60-80 times per second. Their wings move in a figure eight-shape when beating. When they are in a courtship dive, this increases to 200 times per SECOND! Have you ever seen them do this! It’s incredible! The female rests on a branch while the male flies at top speed in a giant arch, a pendulum, with the bottom being right beside the watching female. How could she not be impressed! I still remember the first time I ever witnessed this, standing rapt at the bay window of the house I lived in New York State, watching in awe as the male whipped up and down, up and down, like he was on an invisible string, sailing past the quiet female in spectacular fashion.

A male has no white in his tail.

A male has no white in his tail.

2. Hummingbirds fly up to 40 mph in a straight line and as much as 65 mph in their courtship dive! They can fly in place, forwards, sideways, even upside-down.

3. They are the only bird that can fly backwards.hum-3

When they chase each other around by my feeders, they often dart in and out the small wooden slats on the deck, zooming through the narrow spaces at crazy speeds. I cannot imagine how this is possible, always wanting to close my eyes when I see them doing this, thinking at any second they will run smack dab into the wood, sudden death a guarantee. Yet I have never seen one run into anything but each other, and this is surely intentional.

4. Hummingbirds have the fastest metabolism of any animal on earth. Their metabolism is 100 times faster than that of an elephant!

5 Hummingbirds are also the tiniest birds in the world. Their brain consists of 4.2% of their body weight; the largest in the animal kingdom! They can hear better than humans, see better than us, even see ultraviolet light. Their heart  beats at a rate of 615 beats per minute!hum--5

6. The colors you see in a hummingbird’s feathers are not from pigments, but rather the STRUCTURE of the feathers!  The colors vary according to how much light hits them and at what angle it comes from. This explains why sometimes the male’s gorget looks black and then when he suddenly turns his head, it can look bright red. Amazing!!

7. Ruby-throated hummingbirds, like other hummingbirds have a diet of flower nectar and insects and other small invertebrates that are important sources of protein for the tiny birds. They catch the insects in mid-air, find them on leaves or in spider webs.hum-4712

8. Ruby-throated hummingbirds are the only species of hummingbirds that lives and nests east of the Rockies. Thus, when you see one on the east coast, you can be pretty sure it’s a ruby-throated hummingbird! Both males and females have a metallic green back and white underside. Females are 15-25% larger, lack a red throat patch (called a gorget) and have three white-tipped tail feathers on each side of their forked tail. Immature hummingbirds lack the red gorget until after their first winter, though they may have streaking on the neck or one or two red feathers.

Immature males have streaking on the necks and sometimes one or two red feathers

Immature males have streaking on the necks and sometimes one or two red feathers

Notice how visible the red gorget is...

Notice how visible the red gorget is…

9. Hummingbird nests are 1-20 feet from the ground in the crotch of a tree. They make a cup about the size of a walnut using spider silk, plant down, ferns with moss and lichens on the outside. Their two white eggs are the size of peas! Females incubate for two weeks and have one or two broods each summer. The young birds stay in the nest for 20-22 days. When they leave the nest they are full grown. Males do not take part in building the nest or in raising the young.

When they turn their head, their gorget can disappear

When they turn their head, their gorget can disappear

10. The average hummingbird consumes 1/2 of it’s body weight in nectar each day! They have long narrow beaks that are hollow in the middle to allow for their long tongue–which is grooved on the sides– to slip in and out easily.

Look at her long tongue!

Look at her long tongue!

They get their nectar from flowers, and in areas where people live, from hummingbird feeders. If you want to attract hummingbirds, you can put out a hummingbird feeder. Click HERE for more information about attracting hummingbirds to your yard.

Hummingbirds will visit special feeders.

Hummingbirds will visit special feeders.

And possible the MOST AMAZING THING about hummingbirds is their annual migration across the Gulf of Mexico, non-stop! click HERE to read more about this!

Ways to Attract Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds will visit special feeders.

Hummingbirds will visit special feeders.

Attracting hummingbirds to your yard is easy and fairly inexpensive. You can do it by putting up special feeders, most of which can be bought for less than $20. You can also attract these fascinating birds by planting some flowers that these little birds love.

You can buy special hummingbird feeders from most stores that sell bird feeders. If you want, here are two that I recommend–the first one is a suction cup feeder with a built in ant moat and the second is a tube feeder* that has NO YELLOW and, like the suction-cup feeder, comes apart for super easy cleaning. These come with a tube that can be filled with homemade nectar. Though these same stores will sell Perky-pet nectar PLEASE DON’T BUY THIS! Many experts think the red dye/food coloring is causing harm to these tiny birds. The red dye is NOT NECESSARY for attracting hummingbirds. Please don’t support this product.

You can make your own nectar with regular white sugar. Simply mix up water to sugar with a 4 to 1 ratio. That is, 4 parts of water to one part sugar. Heating the water is not necessary. Put the water and sugar in a closed container and shake until the sugar dissolves. Then store in the fridge until it is needed.

If you are going to feed the hummingbirds, you MUST regularly clean your feeder, otherwise the mold that grows may also harm the birds. This is not hard, just bring your feeders in every couple of days and rinse them out. If mold starts to grow, rub with a wet rag or paper towel. Use a q-tip or special cleaning brush to get inside the holes. When the weather is hot, the sugar water, if left in the hot sun for days on end, may ferment and the birds will stop coming. To avoid this, simply refill your feeders every couple of days.

This is the kind of feeder I use--it comes completely apart for easy cleaning!

This is the kind of feeder I use–it comes completely apart for easy cleaning!

The best feeders are the ones that come apart completely. This makes cleaning easy. Some feeder on the market do not come apart, which makes cleaning them next to impossible. Avoid these. Also avoid feeders with yellow around the holes as this only serves to attract bees and is not necessary. The birds will be attracted to the color red, which all feeders have. This is enough!

If you get ants at the feeders, you can buy an ant guard. Here’s the one that I like. This is a plastic cup that attaches to the top of the feeder and hangs between the feeder and the hook. It is basically an ant moat, filled with water that prevents the insects from reaching the feeder. This costs about $5.

Notice the ant guard

Notice the ant guard

If you have a yard and want to plant some hummingbird flowers, go for anything red! Hummingbirds are attracted to the color red, as well as orange and purple.

According to the West Virginia University Extension, here are: some plants you can put in your yard to attract hummers: 

Flowers to plant: bee balm, begonia, bleeding heart, butterfly-weed, canna, cardinal flower, century plant, columbine, dahlia, delphinium, fire pink, foxglove, fuchsia, geranium, gladiolus, hollyhock, impatiens, lantana, lily, nasturtium, petunia, phlox, sage, snapdragon, spider flower, sweet william, verbena, zinnia. These flowers can provide a nectar supply from May to frost.

Vines, trees, and shrubs that attract hummers include honeysuckle, morning glory, trumpet creeper, albelia, butterfly bush, flowering quince, rose of sharon, weigela, flowering currant, rosemary, buckeye and horsechestnut, black locust, flowering crabs, hawthorns, mimosa, and tulip poplar.

*Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. If you purchase a product using one of the links, I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. I will only endorse products I own or would own. All of the opinions on these products are mine.

Weekly Puzzler #15

On a walk in the woods last week I found this… do you know what it is? Click HERE to learn the answer!


Weekly Puzzler Answer #14

Summer is in full swing and that means lots of hummingbirds at the feeders, which is awesome for those of us who love watching them. Such joy they bring to my life! I hope you feel the same!

puzzle-4070Did you notice anything odd about this hummingbird? Look closely at its neck and you will notice ONE tiny red feather! As well as a lot of black streaking on the neck. This is an immature male ruby-throated hummingbird who hasn’t gotten his red gorget yet. (a gorget is just a patch of color on the neck, in this case bright red) Immature males will not get their lovely red throat patch until their first winter. So during the summer and into fall it is often challenging to determine the sex of the visiting hummingbirds. Immature males like this one often have a noticeable “five o’clock shadow” or streaking on their necks and may have one to a few red feathers.

It is not possible to see a “baby” hummingbird at your feeder, though many people think this is what they are seeing when the birds seem so small! But hummingbirds ARE small, at about 3 inches from the tail to their beak. When birds leave the nest, be it a hummingbird or an eagle, they are already full grown.  So when one visits your feeder, it cannot be a baby.ahummer-0086

As adults, the sexes are dimorphic, meaning they are recognizably different. Males have no white on their tails and have a notable red gorget that shines in the sun but may appear black in the shade or when viewed from the side. Females are typically 15-25% larger than the males. Females lack a gorget and have white tips on their outer 3 tail feathers.

If you enjoy watching them and put out feeders, don’t forget to wash the feeder regularly to prevent mold build-up.

Also, PLEASE don’t use red food coloring as this may be harming the birds! and is totally unnecessary. Instead just mix up 4 parts of water to one part regular white sugar.

Do you know how fast hummingbirds beat their wings each SECOND? Or what they can do that no other bird can do? Do you know what they use to make their nests? Or how far they travel each winter? Or where they go and how they get there? Do they ride on the back of other birds? To learn the answers to these and more questions, click HERE for this week’s Creature Feature on the Ruby-Throated Hummingbird–one of nature’s most fascinating animals! Also to learn more about attracting hummingbirds to your yard, CLICK HERE. 

Resources: Operation Ruby Throat


What is it about Summer?

Sunrise on the Blue Ridge ParkwayFlame Azaleas at Roan Mountain Perfection! What a color! Roan MountainLeaf Patterns Beetles are beautiful! Caught! Lily close upA spiderA beetle Spaces The clouds move inCan you smell the rain?Love is in the air! A spider waits Leaf decoration An iridescent flyWho says bugs can't be beautiful? Eyes see you! Long-legged beautyPerfection in the waterWow, what colors! Silence Beauty IS everywhere! Morning Glory

Can you Spread the Poison Ivy Rash?

Poison ivy

Poison ivy

I recently had some family in town visiting for a week and spent many hours down by the pond in our front yard. In several places there is some poison ivy and though I know what it looks like and do my best to avoid walking in it, I still got the itchy rash associated with it. My mom, and likely MANY others like her, believe strongly–and cannot be convinced otherwise!– that if you get a poison ivy rash in one place on your body that you can spread it to another place, or even another person, by touching the rash when it is wet or oozing.

If you have a poison ivy rash on your arm, can you spread it to your leg? Does breaking the blisters and then touching another part on your body spread the rash?? Can someone who touches you or the rash then get poison ivy themselves?

poison ivy with virginia creeper

poison ivy with virginia creeper

The answer to all of the above is NO.

If you have a poison ivy rash on your arm, you CANNOT spread it to your leg!

Breaking the blisters and then touching another part on your body WILL NOT spread the rash!

Someone who touches you or the rash CAN NOT then get poison ivy themselves!

The only way to get the itchy rash is to have contact with the oil–called  urushiol (pronounced ooh-too-she-all.)  This oil is very potent and can remain so for YEARS! This is likely why it seems like the rash is spreading–because the oil was never washed off the source in the first place and continues to cause the itchy rash.

There are MANY, MANY people who will not believe this no matter how many times I say it!

The only way to get the rash associated with poison ivy, is through contact with the urushiol oil.

You do not have to touch the plant to get the rash–you can touch something that has contact with the plant–be it an article of clothing, a dog’s fur, a shoe, a gardening tool, even someone’s hand if the oil is still on it.

Again, the only way to get the rash associated with poison ivy is through contact with the urushiol oil….

But many will argue with me, saying things like “But I wasn’t even in the woods and I got it! My husband has a rash with weeping blisters–I must have gotten it from the sheets in our bed!” Or ” But I had it on my hand and then the next day got a rash on my leg.”

Let me give an example of how this happens: Let’s say you took a hike and unknowingly walked through poison ivy. Now the oil is on the bottom of your pants and maybe your socks and even on your sneakers or hiking boots. So you get home and take these off. A day or so later you get the first rash. Boy is it itchy! The next day you put on your sneakers, touching the laces as you do. The next day, you have MORE poison ivy! Then, a week later you decide to wear those pants again, and putting them on, rub against some of the oil that is on them. A day later, you get a new rash, just as itchy! The next day you do laundry. As you are putting things into the washer, you touch the socks you had on that hike, the same ones with the oil on them and guess what? The next day you get a new rash–this time on your hand! See why it is so easy to think that the rash is spreading from one place to another?

The oil from the poison ivy and poison oak plant is very potent. It can last YEARS!

You can even have the oil under your fingernails and then further spread it from one place to another.

But it’s THE OIL that causes the poison ivy rash, not breaking of the blisters and touching somewhere else!

A wife or mother who gets the poison ivy rash and has never even been outside may be getting it from doing laundry from a person who have had contact with the plant and the oil. The oil can remain potent for a long time!

Also, a person who seems to be immune to the rash can suddenly lose this immunity and get the rash. Being immune today doesn’t mean you will always be immune. There was a period of time when I could walk in poison ivy all I wanted and NOT get it! But then one day that changed! My mother is so allergic she can look at it and get it! (just kidding, but she is REALLY allergic.)

Poison ivy has toothed leaves

Poison ivy has toothed leaves

So learn to recognize poison ivy:

1. Poison ivy has three leaves.But so do lots of other plants including strawberries, raspberries, hog peanut, trillium, jack in the pulpit and more.

When it first comes up it tends to have reddish leaves and a reddish stem.

The leaves are shiny.

The bottom two meet in the middle and the top one is separated a bit.

The leaves are toothed, not smooth. In the fall, the leaves turn yellow.

Poison ivy has a hairy vine that climbs trees

Poison ivy has a hairy vine that climbs trees

In review:

1. Learn to recognize poison ivy and try to avoid touching it! Also, you can get the rash from burning it–this is horrible! Don’t burn poison ivy! This includes the hairy vine that might be on a piece of wood. As my mom can tell you, people have to go to the emergency room when this happens and it’s not pretty. You can also get it from weedwacking it as the oils will be flung in every direction when the machine hits the plant.

2.If you know you’ve been in it, try to wash the exposed part of the body within ten minutes. Wash well! Use soap and scrub. This may or may not work, but it doesn’t hurt to try.

3. If you still get the rash, try a product called Ivarest. This is the only thing I have ever had success with, and I’ve been getting poison ivy for more than 30 years! As a photographer, I can’t always avoid it and just accept that I will get it and deal with it.

4. If you do get it, try to think back and remember what you were wearing. Then wash those clothes! Some people would advise throwing them out, though I think this is a little extreme. Remember, the oil lasts a long time! If you keep getting more poison ivy rashes, it must be on something you keep touching. If you have a dog or cat that goes outside, you can get the rash from touching your pet! Maybe it’s time to give Rex a really, really, really good bath!

5. Some cases are so severe, they require a doctor’s visit. (Maybe think about quitting those naps you insist on taking in the woods!)

If you don’t believe me, here are some other sources that will support these facts. ALL of them say the same thing!!

Penn State Extension

Ivy Block

HT Health

This Old House

Weed Science Society of America







NOT POISON IVY (this is virginia creeper, a plant that is often confused with poison ivy.)

NOT POISON IVY (this is virginia creeper, a plant that is often confused with poison ivy.)


Sometimes virginia creeper and poison ivy grow in the same place.

Sometimes virginia creeper and poison ivy grow in the same place. Can you find the poison ivy? (it’s in the bottom left corner)

Do Dragonflies Sting or Bite?

dragon-044This week’s Creature Feature is the group of animals we call DRAGONFLIES. In the world there are more than 6500 species of dragonflies with a little over 400 in North America. Dragonflies are found almost anywhere that there is freshwater, on every continent except Antarctica.

Check out the slideshow at the end of the post! 

As a photographer, I love to look for and take pictures of dragonflies. It is can be difficult to get close enough to get a full-frame shot but I enjoy the challenge and have discovered that sometimes, if I follow them around enough, their tolerance of me will grow, allowing me to get close enough for a good shot. Also I enjoy looking for them on dewy mornings in August when their wings are covered with hundreds of tiny droplets of water and they are essentially “frozen” until the sun comes out and warms them. Finding them in this state is always a thrill because I know I can get as close as I need and they aren’t going anywhere.dragon-038

Here are some interesting things about dragonflies:

1. Dragonflies are insects (insects have three body parts, a hard exoskeleton, three pairs of legs, a pair of antennae) that have been around since BEFORE the dinosaurs, some 300 million years! Fossils of dragonflies have been discovered that have a wingspan of 28.5 inches! This is amazing! The largest dragonfly we find today has a wingspan of 6 inches. A note about dragonfly antenna–they are super short! And not very noticeable. That’s because dragonflies have FABULOUS vision! They don’t need the long antenna typical of creatures that are either active at night or with poorer eyesight.

dragon-00742. Contrary to popular belief, dragonflies do not sting and will not bite unless handled roughly. It is not unusual for one to land on someone in a canoe or kayak, perching a moment like a winged jewel. When this happens to me I always think of it as good luck, feeling happy that they trusted me enough to stop momentarily. They do not have a stinger like bees and wasps. Many cultures use the dragonfly as a symbol of adaptability in life and as new light and joy.

3. Dragonflies are fierce predators their entire life. After hatching from eggs laid in bodies of freshwater, young dragonflies, called nymphs or naiads, eat other aquatic invertebrates. As nymphs, they have an extendable lower lip called a labium that they use to catch prey, using it like a spear that shoots out at rocket speed to grab an unsuspecting insect or tadpole. Larger nymphs can even feed on small fish!  As adults with wings, dragonflies eat a variety of insects from bees to butterflies to mosquitoes and flies. Many snag prey in mid-air, then land to feast on their prize.dragon-039

4. Dragonflies, like butterflies, can be many different colors, including all the usual ones, like red, blue, green, gold, purple, brown, white and black. Their 4 net-like wings cannot be folded like most insects’ wings and are not fused together so can operate independently. This makes them excellent fliers, capable of going forward, backwards, and hovering in place. Some of the larger species can reach speeds of more than 20 miles per hour! See slideshow below!

5. Dragonflies regulate their body temperature by changing the position of their body with regards to the sun. When it is hot outside and they want to cool off, they will rest with the tip of their abdomen towards the sun. When it is cool and they need to warm up, they will hold their wings flat in the sun, like giant solar panels.

6. Dragonflies start their lives in a body of freshwater, as eggs, that hatch into nymphs. The nymphs have gills and live in the water for a period of time depending on the species. They will go through a series of molts, up to 17, before their transformation to adults. In the United States, most dragonflies take about 11 months to reach adulthood. In the tropics, some species of dragonflies may live underwater as nymphs for 5-7 years.dragon-2

7. When a dragonfly first transforms from a nymph into an adult, they are pale yellow or greenish and are called teneral adults. In this stage they will spend time away from the pond or stream which could be a few days to a few weeks depending on the species. When a nymph is transforming into an adult they are super vulnerable. If the weather turns bad, if they fall to the ground, if another nymph crawls over them or something touches them as they are emerging from their nymphal skin, they can be deformed or die. As nymphs waiting for their wings to dry they are defenseless against birds or other predators that discover them helpless.dragon-2-3

8. Most people think the Monarch Butterfly has the longest migration of any insect but a biologist named Charles Anderson has proved them wrong. A dragonfly named the Globe Skimmer migrates 11,000 miles round trip, traveling from India to the Maldives and then on to Africa and back again in a single year. This is the longest migration of any insect! To avoid strong winds that might push them off course, they reach heights of 3,000 feet. To read more about this amazing discovery, CLICK HERE. 

9. Nymphs have a variety of ways for avoiding being eaten by predators. Besides their excellent camouflage, some species will play dead, allowing their limp bodies to float downstream. Others shoot water out of their butts, propelling themselves forward and away from predators like salamanders. As a last resort, they might shed a leg in an attempt to escape. They will grow this back at their next molt.

10. When dragonflies mate, they form what is known as a wheel and some species even fly around in this position. The female curls her abdomen around to access the sperm from the male. Some males are super protective, flying with the female as she dips her abdomen in the water to lay her eggs–which are microscopic and about the size of the period at the end of this sentence!– to make sure she doesn’t mate with another male. Males of some species take this a step farther and actually will remove his competitors’ sperm from the females!dragon-0268

a Damselfly

a Damselfly

Last but not least, there is a related insect called a damselfly. You have likely seen these flying around the pond along with dragonflies. Damselflies are usually smaller and dainter looking and they usually hold their wings over their bodies instead of open on the sides. I will save other facts about damselflies for another day.

A note about the slideshow pictures: I am not an entomologist. When identifying insects based on a photo in a book or on a website, I do my best to id them but sometimes am not 100% sure.


Like gold dust in the sunlightLook at those eyes! Eyes see you! A Halloween pennant What colors! Spiketail A tweleve-spotted skimmer maleWidow skimmer femaleThis one never got free from its nymphal skinEastern Amberwing MaleBlue Corporal They don't bite!Eastern Pondhawk, femaleMating Pondhawk dragonfliesdragon-0287.jpgA damselfly called Ebony JewelwingCovered with dewEating a flyPerching on a stickCalico PennantCommon Green DarnerA fake eyeEmerging as an adult A dragonfly nymphThey don't bite! What a color! Photographed in ThailandA Dragonfly from ThailandWidow SkimmerCommon Whitetail, female


Dragonflies through Binoculars by Sidney W. Dunkle published by Oxford University Press in 2000

Wild Guide to Dragonflies by Cynthia Berger published by Stackpole Books in 2004