May 31, 2013
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What’s the Buzz? Hummingbirds! 

By Michele S. Byers

Outside on a warm day, something buzzes past in a blur. A large bumblebee or sphinx moth, perhaps? How about a hummingbird?

With about 340 hummingbird species in the Western Hemisphere, only one – the ruby-throated hummingbird – is found in the eastern United States. And these glittering jewels of the avian world have arrived in New Jersey!

Ruby-throated hummingbirds spend their winter in Mexico and Central America and fly north every spring to breed. Their arrival in the Garden State coincides with the emergence of insects and blooming forest shrubs. Adults head south before Labor Day, and the newly hatched juveniles leave by mid-September.

It takes sharp eyes to spot this tiniest of birds, but it’s incredibly easy to attract them to your backyard with brightly colored flowers and nectar feeders.

Watching hummingbirds in action is a fascinating summer pastime. Hummingbirds are bold around humans and never fail to entertain with their acrobatic hovering and diving – and their comically territorial behavior, known as “hummingbird wars.”


Some facts:

• Adult hummingbirds weigh little more than a nickel.

• Their wings beat around 53 times per second, and they can hover and fly backwards.

• They get their name from the “humming” sound of their wings. They don’t sing melodious songs like a lot of our summer birds, but instead make distinctive chattering peeps.

• Males are emerald green above, grayish-white below, with an iridescent patch on their throat that can appear jet black or gleaming ruby red. Females and juveniles don’t have red throats and their green coloring is not as bright.

• Hummingbirds have thin, slender bills and are omnivorous. For protein, they “flycatch” mosquitoes and midges in midair or pick spiders and caterpillars off leaves. Their heart rate goes from 4 beats per second at rest, to 20 beats per second while hovering!

• To fuel all that flying, they sip sugary nectar from flowers using their long, hollow tongues that work like soda straws. They are critical pollinators for native plants with tubular flowers, and their high metabolism requires many times their body weight in nectar each day.


To attract hummingbirds, plant tubular flowers like trumpet vine, bee balm, lobelia, salvia, butterfly weed, petunia, hibiscus, mandevilla, morning glory and native coral honeysuckle.

Set up a feeder outside your window for maximum viewing pleasure. Many good feeders are available; most are colored red to grab the hummingbirds’ attention, and some have little perches to entice visitors to stay longer.

Mixing hummingbird food is simple. Add a quarter-cup of table sugar to one cup of water – but leave out the food coloring because it could be harmful to the birds. Hang the feeder in midday and afternoon shade. Clean the feeder and change the sugar water often, because it can ferment in summer heat.

If you’re really into hummingbird watching, share your observations with others. Each year, thousands of hummingbird fans track migrations that helps researchers determine whether patterns are shifting due to climate change or other factors.

Project FeederWatch, sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies of Canada, is one great site where you can report your spring hummingbird sightings – Another is, a website with constantly updated maps showing the annual hummingbird migration.

For more information on identifying, observing and feeding hummingbirds, visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology website at

And to learn more about preserving New Jersey’s land and natural resources, visit New Jersey Conservation Foundation’s website at or contact me at


Michele S. Byers is the executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation.


Summertime Learning Brings a Lifetime of Benefits

By Laysha Ward

Pop quiz: What’s the most critical time of the year for American students?

If you guessed back-to-school season or final exams week, you’d be wrong. Believe it or not, summer vacation has an enormous impact on everything from mathematics to reading development for young learners.

Just a couple months of away from the classroom can result in significant learning losses for students.

For more than 100 years, researchers have found standardized test results are dramatically lower immediately following summer break than they are before school lets out. And when students lose ground early in their education, it can have a dramatic effect on their long-term prospects.

That’s the bad news. The good news is there’s a lot parents and caring adults can do to ensure summer vacation doesn’t bring an education slump.

Here are five easy ways you can help prevent the “summer slide.”


1. Look for books that correspond to your child’s interests.

Choosing the right reading material is also a crucial part of getting kids to read during the summer. Is your son obsessed with dinosaurs? Does your daughter love mysteries? Find books that feed these curiosities. Familiarize yourself with what your kids will be learning in the fall and make a point of discussing those topics throughout the summer. Whether it’s long division or American history, offering students a preview of the coming school year will ensure they’re prepared.


2. Incorporate reading into your child’s summertime routine.

As any parent can tell you, summer is often the most difficult time of year to find constructive projects for kids. On a hot summer day, try stopping by the local library to see what programs and activities are available. Or bring a bag of books along next time you take a trip to the park.


3. Find new ways of making learning fun.

Technology can play a big part in making learning fun. E-readers, tablets, and smartphones allow young learners to enjoy digital books. Introducing an exciting piece of technology can go a long way toward holding a child’s interest.

Also, be on the lookout for opportunities to introduce math into your child’s everyday life. This can be as simple as measuring household items, teaching how to tell time, noting the temperature every day, or adding up prices at the supermarket.


4. Tap into local resources to enhance your child’s reading opportunities.

Check with local schools, community centers, and universities to find summer learning programs that will keep your child engaged over the long break. When planning a vacation, try heading to a place that offers educational opportunities. Historic sites, museums, national parks, and zoos all provide young learners with chances to enrich themselves in fun ways.


5. Finally, consider volunteering to help students outside your immediate family fall in love with reading.

Many parents are well aware of the value of continued summer education, but they just don’t have the time or resources to provide one for their own kids. Helping them out can make a profound difference. Even small acts, like reading with a nephew, tutoring at a summer school, or volunteering at a local library, can generate major educational returns and help ensure that the students in your life don’t suffer the summer slide.

The “summer slide” can have a devastating effect on student achievement. Luckily, it’s a problem that parents and caring adults, can do something about.

Taking steps to ensure that your child is intellectually stimulated all year round can bring benefits that will last a lifetime.


Laysha Ward is president of community relations for Target.



Two River Moment


Electric lights were strung, booths were set up and the crowds gathered to chat and enjoy the Little Silver Fair in this aerial photograph, taken in 1953.

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