The Nature Writers of Texas

The best nature writing from the newspaper, magazine, blog and book authors of the Lone Star State . . .

Sunday, March 30, 2003


Photo by Mary Curry

Birds and Beyond
Summer Hummers
Claire Curry, March 2003, Wise County Messenger, © 2003

The big event should be only a few days away. In fact, this annual occurrence fills souls with delight all across the country. What is this phenomenon that causes such eager anticipation? The return of the summer hummingbirds!

Here in Wise County, we have two species of regularly occurring hummers: Ruby-throated and Black-chinned. The familiar Ruby-throated Hummingbird is found throughout the eastern United States in the summer. The male of this species has an iridescent red throat that shimmers from glowing flame-red to brilliant gold. The Black-chinned Hummingbird, more of a southwestern species, has a black chin bordered by a broad, iridescent amethyst band. The females of both species both lack the iridescent throats, and so are almost impossible to tell apart in the field.

As I mentioned above, the hummingbirds usually return here in the third week of March. My hummer feeder is already out in anticipation of their arrival, and you might want to get yours out too. If you are planning on buying or making a hummingbird feeder, I would recommend getting an easy-to-clean one. Mold grows quickly in warm weather in the sugar solution, and bottle-shaped feeders with small necks can be a real pain to clean. For the nectar, a solution of one part sugar and four parts hot or boiling water works well. You don't need to add red food coloring, as the red on your hummingbird feeder should be enough to catch their attention.

Hummer-friendly flowers are also a great way to get these bejeweled birds to visit your yard. Plus, you don't have to refill flowers. A few good plants for hummingbirds include coral honeysuckle, salvia, penstemon, cardinal flower, and trumpet vine. Also, hummingbirds eat many small insects. So, using pesticides on your plants is probably not going to help the hummers.

Once you've got hummingbirds buzzing around your feeders and flowers, you can sit back and watch them fight. Hummingbirds are very territorial little birds, and fight over the prized nectar almost constantly. We've heard their beaks clash and seen them buzzing in an angry ball of feathers. At times you wonder how they ever find time to do anything else. But they do.

Male Ruby-throated and Black-chinned hummingbirds sometimes can be seen arching back and forth, performing a pendulum in an effort to impress the lady hummers. It obviously works at least some of the time, as female hummingbirds lay two pea-sized eggs in an extraordinarily hard-to-see nest. The nest is made of dainty materials such as spider web (the nest stretches as the babies grow), lichen, and plant down.

If you'd like to learn more about these delightful creatures, two interesting hummer websites are www.hummingbirds.net and www.hummingbirdsplus.org You can also find photos and identification tips on our local hummers on /www.tallgrasstexas.org/ in the Wise County List section. So, get ready to enjoy a summer of hummers!

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