Hummingbird Time in South Texas
by Ro Wauer
A recent note in the Advocate, regarding favorite nectaring plants for hummingbirds reminded me that it is almost time for us to experience one of nature’s most amazing events when thousands of hummingbirds descend upon our part of North America. The vast majority of those migrating hummers are ruby-throats from all across northern U.S. that funnel along the Gulf Coast en route to their wintering grounds South of the Border. We also can except black-chins, a few rufous and broad-tailed from the west, and our only full-time resident hummer, the buff-bellied. Very rarely we also find an Anna’s, Allen’s, or broad-billed hummers, and even on an extremely rare occasion a green violet-ear.
During the fall migration period from late August to mid-September, and peaking from September 5 to 15, southbound hummers can be found throughout our area, feeding on almost every flowering plant they find. Those of us that place out hummingbird feeders can expect dozens of individuals at each feeder to take advantage of those handouts. During the peak period I often place a dozen or more feeders in my yard, and on one occasion a couple years, trying to estimate the number in my yard, my rough guess was in the range of 350 individuals that were using 18 feeders. The entire backyard, the air as well as the trees, was alive with hungry hummers. Their buzzing flight was even audible indoors.
The visiting hummers, as well as the resident birds, also nectar on a wide variety of native and garden plants. Commonly used planted species, not in priority order, include bee-brush, cherry sage, cigar plant, crossvine, desert willow, firebush, firecracker bush, flame acanthus, honeysuckles, jatrophe, lantanas, mealy sage, Mexican flame-vine, Mexican heather, penta, red justica, red yucca, rock rose, shrimp plant, sky-flower (Duranta), Texas kidneywood, trumpet-creeper, and Turk‘s cap. The native tropical sage is also heavily used. But the migrants seem to prefer the artificial feeders, clustering about to get a perch and often chasing one another away only to loose its space at the feeder.
Hummingbird feeders, available in numerous store in the area, requires only minimal care, although during the peak of use cleaning and filling feeders can be an almost full-time job. Feeders should be hung in a shady location where the visiting hummers can sit nearby when not drinking. The hummingbird water can be purchased or prepared at home. I use plain old well water mixed with cane sugar at a ratio of 1 part sugar to 6 parts water; what is left is stored in the refrigerator. Red food coloring is not recommended; it may harm the hummers and serves no purpose. If hummers are present but do not come to your feeder, hang strips of red cloth from the feeder as an additional attractant. What about ants and other insects? Ants can be a real nuisance, but they can be controlled by using an ant guard (built in on some feeders) or running the string through a film cassette filled with some Vaseline. Most other insects can’t reach deep enough in the feeder to drink the liquid.
And for those readers that enjot hummingbirds, how about attending Rockport’s annual Hummer/Bird Celebration. This year’s celebration is scheduled for September 14-16 at the Rockport High School. It is a super occasion with field trips to see hummers in various yards, banding demonstrations, talks on birds and butterflies, and up to a hundred booths of bird- and nature-related items for sale. Betty and I discovered that it is a great place to find Christmas gifts. We hope to see you there!