Suburban residents may have noticed an influx of ruby-throated hummingbirds flitting around their backyards this summer.
The small birds are looking for food in new places because of the prolonged summer drought, experts said. The birds feed on the nectar of flowers and small insects like mosquitoes, gnats, fruit flies, small bees and spiders.
"The drought has caused a reduction in their natural food supply, so if they're looking for food in forest preserves and can't find it, they'll gravitate toward people's backyards, which are usually kept well-watered and full of food," said Tim Joyce of Mount Prospect, who works at Wild Birds Unlimited, an upscale bird seed and supplies store with locations in Arlington Heights and Glenview.
The birds give off a soft fluttering noise made by their wings, which beat nearly 60 times a second. It's similar to the rotors on a helicopter, he said.
The unique birds have been a treat for residents and bird-watchers alike, Joyce said.
"They can hover in place, fly backward or fly sideways," he said.
"Then this little bird, weighing less than an eighth of an ounce, flies hundreds of miles over the Gulf of Mexico for the winter. It's really an insane feat what these birds are able to do."
The hummingbirds will take flight in the next few weeks, migrating hundreds of miles south for the winter after spending the summer living and mating up north, Joyce said.
He added that although the birds have been more noticeable in neighborhood settings this year, the drought is actually harmful for the species and can cause some to die out.
But while the birds are still feeding in the suburbs, Joyce said residents can enjoy their small stature, flying feats and even try to get up close and personal with one.
Hummingbirds are naturally tame, and a patient person could even get one to land in a handheld bird feeder.