By Alisha Brewer

Sprawling green fields teeming with four leaf clovers are not something that Vail residents are accustomed to. And with leprechauns being so darn tricky to catch, how are we supposed to find our good luck this St. Patrick’s Day? Thankfully, we have our own symbol of luck here in southern Arizona, our amazing hummingbirds!

Hummingbirds are the smallest bird in the world. Most species are only 3-5 inches tall and weigh just a few grams-so about 3 raisins. With over 300 species worldwide, 13 call Tucson home. Anna’s hummingbird is here all year and the Broad-billed hummingbird is most commonly found on the eastside.

Hummingbirds get their name from the humming sound that their wings make as they beat about 80 times per second! I’ve definitely had my body convulse and react in a whiplash response thinking that a palo verde beetle or a tarantula hawk wasp just narrowly missed me, only to realize that it was just a hummingbird buzzing by. Birds typically achieve flight by flapping their wings up and down. But, hummingbirds are far from typical. They are able to rotate their wings in a figure 8 pattern and gain lift from both the up and down motion. The result? A bird that can not only hover, but fly up, down, side to side AND backwards!

The Desert Museum states that, while active, a hummingbird’s heart will beat 1,260 times each minute! At rest, it will beat 500 times per minute. Just thinking of that makes me feel like I’m having a heart attack. (The average human heart beat is 60-100 times a minute.) These little guys live life full throttle. With such a high metabolism, the need to constantly fuel their bodies is very important. They will eat every 10-15 minutes and can easily visit over 1,000 flowers in a single day!

Hummingbirds have awesome color vision and can even see in the ultraviolet range. Their eyes are attuned to warmer shades, rather than cooler, so they can easily pick out yellow, red and orange hues. Red is their favorite. We have a wonderful abundance of plant life that they enjoy. I’m told that autumn sage, desert honeysuckles, penstemons and salvia bushes are great for attracting them to your yard. They love nectar, but also enjoy feasting on small insects.

Mom hummingbirds are rockstars. It is the female that will make the nest, incubate the eggs and raise the young all on her own. She will make her silver dollar sized nest from small leaves, twigs, feathers, and grass. But, the most important piece of building material is spider webs- which help bind it all together! She will typically lay two eggs, about the size of jelly beans.

Many people view hummingbirds as a sign of good luck and are a welcomed visitor to one’s yard. Some find hummingbirds to be a tie to loved ones whom they’ve lost. Their presence brings comfort and a reminder that the people we hold close are never far away.

So, this St. Patrick’s Day do not despair! The emerald isle. Who needs it? I bet bunches of clovers are allergy inducing. Tiny, mischievous, bearded men promising unattainable riches. Creepy! (And eerily similar to a past dating experience, but we won’t go there). Rainbows and gold? They disappear way too quickly. As luck would have it, my fellow residents of Vail, we need but only walk outside to see our good fortune- those radiant iridescent streaks darting across our desert sky. I wish you the best o’luck this month. May your flowers bloom and the hummers come and may a wee bit of shenanigans bring you happiness.

Alisha Brewer is a veteran zoo keeper of nearly 15 years. U of A alum. Boy mom, veggie dog connoisseur, anti Oxford comma and eternal optimist. Alisha hopes to connect residents to the incredible creatures that surround us.

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