Hummingbird Garden

Overview: Hummingbirds prefer tubular flowers that are red, orange, or pink. Most of the species planted here produce such flowers. While insects constitute their principal food, hummingbirds regularly visit flowers in quest of the energy-rich nectar that enables them to maintain their high metabolic rate. The first documented sighting of an Allen's hummingbird in Florida was at Kanapaha Botanical Gardens.

A closer look: Hummingbirds are the smallest of all birds. One of the consequences of this diminutive stature is a high skin surface-to-body size ratio which means they lose body heat readily and must maintain a high metabolic rate to replace this heat and hold their body temperature constant. To obtain the necessary energy, hummingbirds sip nectar, an enterprise that puts them in competition with insects. It appears that hummingbirds’most intense competitors in times past were bees. And so the process of natural selection ultimately minimized the competitive interactions between these two groups by exploiting a difference in their sensory capabilities. For unlike birds, bees cannot see red. Through time, coevolutionary interactions generated a lock-and-key mechanism in which red (or reddish) tubular flowers are pollinated by long-billed hummingbirds while bees perform this function on flowers whose petals are of other colors.

Some butterflies, however, can see red and also serve as competitors in pollinating some of the same flowers that attract hummingbirds. The only hummingbirds regularly native to Florida is the ruby-throated hummingbird. Individuals may be seen here during the cooler hours of the day from late March through October. Although they sip nectar to meet their metabolic needs, hummingbirds feed principally on insects. When flowers and insects disappear each winter, hummingbirds migrate across the Gulf of Mexico to overwinter on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Of all birds, only hummingbirds can fly backwards. This enables them to withdraw their beaks from floral tubes while in hovering flight.

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