The Nature Writers of Texas

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

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Are You Ready for the Annual Hummingbird Invasion?
By Ro Wauer

Already the number of hummingbirds utilizing my feeders has increased considerably, and that increase will undoubtedly continue during the next several weeks. It is that time of year when thousands of ruby-throated hummers are moving southward to their winter grounds in the tropics. Although a few of the ruby-throats may hang around throughout the winter months, especially if we experience a mild winter, the vast majority leave the United States for warmer climes to the south.

September is our hummingbird month when hoards of ruby-throats from throughout the eastern half of the Continent pour through our area like a huge hourglass. My yard near Mission Valley can literally be filled with these tiny, fast-flying gems. Four years ago, when I had 15 feeders hanging from tree limbs and under the poach overhang, I estimated that as many as 350 individual hummers were present at one time. Although that number was much higher than might normally be in my yard at once this time of year, it is not all that far-fetched.

In tune with the hummingbird migration, Rockport's Hummer/Bird Celebration has become an annual event. This year's festival is schedule for September 16-18. And for anyone interested in hummingbirds, you can hardly go wrong. Betty and I go every year just to check out the wide variety of vendors that sell everything from jewelry to binoculars to t-shirts to books. We usually come home with some marvelous Christmas presents. Other folks register and attend talks and banding demonstrations or go on field trips.

But back at home, are you ready for the hummingbird invasion? If you already are feeding hummingbirds with one or a few feeders, put out more and you will increase your numbers. Hummingbird feeding requires little more than a feeder, available at dozens of stores, filled with sugar water and placed in a shady spot in the yard. The hummingbirds will find it! Hummingbird water can be purchased or can easily be made at home at a much-reduced cost. I use plain old well water mixed with cane sugar at a ratio of one part sugar to six to ten parts water. I mix up a big batch and store the remaining in the refrigerator. Red food coloring is not recommended; it may be harmful to the tiny hummers.

What about ants and other insects that are attracted to the sugar water in the feeders? Ants can be a real nuisance, but these insects can be controlled by using an ant guard. I find the cheapest and most effective ant guard is a 35-mm film canister rimmed inside with Vaseline; I simply poke a tiny hole in the canister and thread the line used to hang the feeder through it. Wasps can also be a problem, but most feeders are built so those wasps cannot reach the liquid.

One warning: it is most important that your feeders be properly maintained. That is, although much depends on the weather, they must be cleaned each time they are refilled. It is a good idea to brush them each time with a weak Clorox-water solution. And never leave them out so long as the holes get rimmed with black. If a feeder is not emptied in four days, bring it in, empty the contents, clean it up, and start over again.

Hummingbird feeders are one of the easiest ways to attract migrating hummingbirds. Although ruby-throated hummingbirds will be most numerous, watch also for some of the other possible species. The larger hummingbird that you will find is the buff-breasted hummingbird; it is full-time resident in our area. Black-throated hummingbirds occur in summer, and they undoubtedly will visit your feeders. But also watch for some of the others such as rufous, broad-tailed, calliope, and Allen's. All are possible.

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