Feathered frequent flyers

After first hummingbird sightings in the Heart of Texas, time to welcome migrant vibrating wings by putting up feeders

Spring has sprung. So COVID-19 or no COVID-19, thousands of ruby-throated and black-chinned hummingbirds will exchange their Central American winter homes for more temperate American and Canadian breeding spots.

Fortunately for hummingbird enthusiasts, some can’t help themselves and stick around to breed in the Lone Star State. But with the temperatures dipping below springtime levels lately, the birds of paradise are probably rethinking their early departure from their winter retreats.

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Hummingbirds are heading our way, so get those feeders up. A female black-chinned hummingbird at a feeder in Bosque County. Photo by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS

Most of the tiny, winged migrants arrive in March to early April, then leave in September-October.

At this time, several Central Texas locations have reported first sightings. The males will be the first to arrive, and dependent on the spring weather sightings will be mid-late March. Central Texas is an overlap area where ruby-throats (Archilochus colubris) and black-chinned (Archilochus alexandri)| can be found frequenting the same area.

A report came in that a solitary black-chinned hummingbird male was at a feeder in Meridian March 16. Then on March 18, another male was sighted in Laguna Park.

Three days earlier than last year, a hummingbird was sighted on March 18 in Norse, Bosque County. The people that spotted him named the male Hercules. Since then, the same location has reported two more. A ruby throated hummingbird was sighted in Glen Rose on March 19. And two black-chinned males were seen in Meridian, engaged in an air battle around a feeder March 30.

Other dominant hummingbird species in North America are Rufous (Selasphorus rufus)|, Calliope (Stellula calliope) and Anna's (Calypte anna), but they are very scarce in Texas.

With the initial sightings, it’s high time to get up those feeders, so the mighty minis can replenish energy on their long journeys. And if you want to attract more hummingbirds, just hang more feeders.

The hummingbird food suitable for feeders is simply one part white granulated sugar dissolved in four parts, clean, boiling water, then cooled. It’s very important to get the ratio correct as it mimics the amount of sugar found in the flower nectar hummingbirds have co-evolved with.

Do not use brown sugar, honey, sugar powders or artificial sweeteners red dye and red food coloring – as often seen in commercial nectars. Organic, natural and raw sugars can be too high in iron. These items can cause a range of problems including bird illness, rapid bacteria, fungi growth and the potential spread of disease.

It’s very important that the feeders are cleaned and refreshed regularly to avoid mold fungus and bacterial contamination.

These mighty little birds with wings specialized for vibrating flight will travel non-stop up to 500 miles to reach U.S. shores. It takes approximately 18-22 hours to complete this flight. Beating their wings over 15-80 times a second, their hearts beating 1,260 times a minute and flying alone, the mini birds often fly over the open water of the Gulf of Mexico rather than follow the longer shoreline route; and that route is devoid of any food stops.

To support this high energy level, a hummingbird will typically gain 25-40 percent of their body weight before they start migration in order to make the long trek over land and water.

Follow the migration of these mighty, mini flyers as they trek North, or decide to hang around in Central Texas at any of the following websites: https://www.hummingbirdcentral.com/hummingbird-migration.htm; https://www.hummingbird-guide.com/hummingbird-migration.html; http://www.hummingbirds.net/migration.html

It speaks to the imagination that birds, so tiny – some moths are easily bigger than they are – make the 500-mile trip, twice each year. In the fall, hummingbirds migrate back in response to hormonal changes which are triggered by decreasing length of daylight.

Being carnivores - nectar is just the fuel to power their fly-catching activity – the birds depend on insects for food. When the bugs deplete with colder weather, the mini birds need to trek South to warmer climes in the winter or risk starvation.

At that time, they will need to fatten up to nearly double normal body weight to survive the journey. So keep up those feeders until literally the last minute before they depart back down Mexico-way.

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