Sunday, September 2, 2018

And, The Migration Begins!!

Are you beginning to see a plethora of hummingbirds at your feeders now? What’s the deal? Below is a video, from Texas Certified Master Gardener Ann Fair-Irby, of the hoard of hummers at one of her feeders.

This is one of Texas’ most amazing avian spectacles. What you are seeing is the start of the hummingbird migration. Beginning around the first week of September, multitudes of hummers show up along the Texas Gulf Coast from points north and east. This historic staging area becomes the stopping place for the nation’s largest concentration of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds as they prepare for their southern migratory passage. These little birds fly to the Rockport/Fulton area of Texas to fatten up on nectar and protein before departing for the tropics, flying over or around the Gulf of Mexico to points south, mainly central and southern Mexico. For several weeks, thousands congregate in the area and partake of a feeding frenzy on Turk’s Cap, Salvia and other nectar-producing plants.

Migration is triggered by light and day length. This fact begs the question of how hummingbirds born in northern climes this summer know the way to the Gulf. This is a trip of 500-600 miles over open water. Hummingbirds do not travel in flocks but fly alone. Anyone care to guess?

For a hummer that just hatched, there's no memory of past migrations, only an urge to put on a lot of weight and fly in a particular direction for a certain amount of time, then look for a good place to spend the winter. The initial urge is triggered by the shortening length of sunlight as autumn approaches, and has nothing to do with temperature or the availability of food; in fact, hummingbirds migrate south at the time of greatest food abundance. When the bird is fat enough, it migrates.

Once it learns such a route, a bird may retrace it every year as long as it lives. Banding studies suggest that individual birds may follow a set route year after year, often arriving at the same feeder on the same day. 

Here are some other interesting facts about these flying jewels:

  • A hummingbird’s tongue has grooves on the sides to help it catch insects.
  • A hummingbird must drink almost twice its weight in nectar every day to survive.
  • They have 40 to 60 taste buds. Humans possess about 10,000.
  • Hummers can’t fly until their body temperature reaches 86 degrees.
  • The average hummingbird nest is about 2 inches in diameter.
  • It would take 150 average sized male hummingbirds to equal 1 pound.
  • Hummingbirds have about 1,500 feathers. I wonder who counted them?
  • Even at rest, a hummingbird’s heart rate is eight times faster than that of a human.
  • The oldest hummingbird recorded was 14 years old.
  • Hummingbirds were named for the sound their wings make while they fly.
  • Hummingbirds show they are “on guard” by ruffling their crown feathers.
  • Hummingbirds’ wings move in a figure-eight pattern. This allows the birds to hover and fly in all directions – even upside down!
  • They have weak feed and legs. They use them only for perching and preening.
  • Their eggs are about the size of a jelly bean.
  • Male hummers do not help raise their young. Figures. . .
  • They beat their wings about 50 times a second, so they appear as a blur.
  • While at rest, a hummer takes 250 breaths per minute.
  • The Cuban bee hummingbird is the smallest warm-blooded animal in the world. The male weighs less than a dime.
  • About 25% of their weight is flight muscles.

Garden on!

Ann Reynolds
Texas Certified Master Gardener