Canaan, N.Y. — If ever we could use a glimpse of miraculous beauty right outside our windows, it is now. And the timing is perfect, because ruby-throated hummingbirds have returned to the Northeast after spending the winter in locations as far south as Costa Rica and making an incredible 20-hour nonstop flight across the Gulf of Mexico. (This 500-mile journey shouldn’t even be possible, but the tiny birds manage it by first consuming enough food to double their fat mass.)

This female Ruby-throated hummingbird spends 80 percent of her time perching. While incubating eggs, she will lower her body temperature to conserve energy. Photo: David Noel Edwards

Looking like something out of the Annals of Cryptozoology, the hummingbird is such an amazing creature that no matter how long you observe one, it’s still hard to believe your eyes. Their ability to fly backward and upside-down at the same time puts these birds in a class apart from all other avian species. But it’s not only their aeronautical prowess that makes them famous. It’s also their well-known iridescence, a trait that males use to notify other males of their need to immediately vacate the area.

Although wasps are never welcome at hummingbird feeders, they do afford us the opportunity to see the birds’ remarkable maneuvering skills put to the test. Compared with hummingbirds, wasps are clumsy slowpokes. A wasp sting could be fatal to a hummingbird because its body has so little mass to absorb the venom. Fortunately, wasp stings on hummingbirds are rare, thanks to their superior top-gun capabilities. Photo: David Noel Edwards

To see hummingbirds every day for four months, all you have to do is put out a hanging bottle of sugar water (the red coloring is optional) and wait a few days. Most garden centers and hardware stores sell both the feeders and the food.

The birds are already in the area, but you still have time to deploy your feeders. Do it. It will make you happy.

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Practically everything you need to know about this year’s hummingbird migration can be found here.

A male ruby-throated hummingbird’s gorget, the iridescent patch of bright red on its throat, appears dull black when viewed from many angles. Photo: David Noel Edwards

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