I have seen the last of the hummingbirds for the season. Kind of sad really since they have provided us with so much entertainment over the spring and summer. The old adage told us to put the feeders out on Tax Day, April 15 and take them in on Labor Day, the first Monday in September. Well, if we had followed that rule we would have had a tiny revolt on our hands. Those miniature feet would be stomping, that quiet hum would turn into a loud grumbling protest.
We don’t know where they go when they leave the feeders several times a day but I swear they watch until one of us fills the glass containers with the red flowered perches. We don’t buy the red powder sold in the hardware store, we don’t want to give them anything harmful; no chemicals or red dyes. Instead we use pure sugar put into boiling water.
I have no idea how many of these tiny dancers visit us each day. My husband easily recognizes the male from the female because of coloration. As in many species, I think the male is the more colorful one.
I have never seen a hummingbird’s nest in person but from what I’ve read they build the smallest nest of any birds. Typical nests are 0.79 inches across and 1.18 inches high. They build their nests using mud or saliva. It’s no wonder I haven’t seen them, it would probably take a good zoom lens or a magnifying glass to find one. Most U.S. hummingbirds migrate to southern Mexico or northern Panama. The Gulf crossing is one of the few times the hummers fly at night. These birds lead solitary lives, they don’t live or migrate in flocks. A lone bird might spend the winter season in that range where the habitat is favorable and probably returns to the same location every winter.
Will the same birds return to my house in Virginia in the spring? These birds, with a brain the size of a Grape-nut supposedly follow the magnetic pull of the earth, using the sun and stars for their GPS. It is said that these birds can remember the placement of things they pass on their way south. The locations of lakes, rivers, interstates are used to help these hummers trace their steps each spring.
Banding studies have shown that migrating hummingbirds make the same stops year after year, often on the same day. The males are the first to return, the females arriving about ten days later.
The spring migration of the Ruby-throated hummingbird begins at a time of year when these birds are furthest from the minds of most Northerners. In early February when most of us are cursing the cold, hummingbirds are getting restless on their wintering grounds in Central America, the change in daylight or some internal clock tells these birds to stop what they are doing and start working their way back north.
If all goes well they will reach the US coast after about eighteen hours of flying. If the headwinds are too strong they can run out of fuel. Sometimes lucky birds are able to find refuge on the decks of fishing boats where they might load up on peeled shrimp.
Theirs is not an easy voyage…. they cross paths with larger, more aggressive birds, they must grab quick sips from flowers without getting caught and must find extra food to bulk up for the rest of their journey. They can increase their weight from one zillionth of an ounce to two zillionths of an ounce.
The bottom line here is to be prepared. You know they are coming so why wait until you see one hovering aimlessly where your feeder used to be. Have your feeder out, filled and waiting for when that first bird arrives after an exhausting flight. I can’t wait!
I am a free lance writer and a hospice volunteer. I thrive on Writer's Conferences and Workshops. I received and Honorable Mention in GlimmerTrain for a story I wrote about a tough time in my life. Life is good now and I want to express and share bright spots in my life.