Migrating Hummingbirds Face Drought Conditions

As the ongoing drought worsens, migrating hummingbirds may find little native vegetation to sustain them as they fly south for the winter.

Black-chinned hummingbird at Arizona Desert Museum, Tucson. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Black-chinned hummingbird at Arizona Desert Museum, Tucson. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This year, local birding experts say, it’s essential that humans feed the tiny feathered travelers.

On a recent visit to Central Texas, Norma Friedrich, president of the Arroyo Colorado Audubon Society saw no native flowering plants on which the hummingbirds would rely as they pass through Texas, en route to Mexico and Central America. The migrating birds will be forced to rely almost entirely on humans for their food, Friedrich told the Valley Morning Star.

This year, more than ever, the hummingbirds will seek out flowering plants in gardens, as well as feeders in yards, on porches and patios.

The migration should start any day now, she said. The first to arrive will be the ruby-throated hummingbirds. The ruby-throats, which spend the summer in New England, the northeastern U.S., and southern Canada, will be followed by black-chinned hummingbirds that travel south from the western United States. Then the Rufous hummingbirds arrive, migrating from the western United States and as far north as Alaska.

Friedrich also reminds humans who feed any birds of a lesson many birders know: “You attract more birds with water than with seeds.” A water mister or a lawn sprinkler with a fine spray will attract many kinds of birds. The appreciative hummingbirds will give themselves showers by flying through the spray.

Nesting hummer at Arizona Desert Museum, Tucson. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nesting hummer at Arizona Desert Museum, Tucson. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The regular and widespread practice of feeding hummingbirds in Rockport (Texas) resulted in the city’s annual hummingbird celebration, this year marked its 25th anniversary, September 12-15.

Feeding

Feeding hummingbirds requires a limited amount of paraphernalia, according to several specialized websites.

To begin, you need a hummingbird feeder, sugar, water, measuring cups, and a suitable place to hang the feeder. For feeder maintenance, you need a couple of brushes to clean the inside of the feeder and the little holes where the birds feed.

Boil water and measure one quart into a container. Let the water cool and add one cup of white granulated sugar. Stir or shake until the sugar is dissolved. Refrigerate unused sugar-water. Pour sugar-water into a hummingbird feeder. At first, fill the feeder with one to two cups of sugar-water.

If the feeder is empty in a day, it means you have hummingbirds feeding from it. At the peak of the migration, you may be filling it daily. If that’s the case, consider hanging a second feeder several feet away from the first one.

When the feeder is empty, wash it thoroughly using a bottle brush to remove any film on the inside of the feeder. Use a small brush to clean the holes where the hummingbirds feed.

Do not use artificial sweetener, corn syrup, or honey. Use only regular granulated sugar.

Do not use red dye. Some dyes can harm the birds, and it’s unnecessary anyway. Other useful information from the Arroyo Colorado Audubon Society:

Buff-bellied Hummingbird at Frontera Audubon Thicket in the RGV near Weslaco, Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buff-bellied Hummingbird at Frontera Audubon Thicket in the RGV near Weslaco, Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hang the feeder in a shady location, such as from a tree branch or along the eaves of a porch.

Some gardeners hang feeders on shepherd’s hooks staked among flowering shrubs, providing a bird buffet. It’s important, though, to hang the feeder where it’s easily accessible because you’ll need to regularly remove, wash, refill, and rehang it.

It’s also a good idea to hang the feeder outside a window, so you can watch the birds feeding.

Don’t hang the feeder where it will be accessible to neighborhood cats.

Turn on a lawn sprinkler or a mister. The hummingbirds — and all other birds — need water, especially in the current drought conditions. The hummingbirds will cool themselves when they fly through the spray.

Hummingbirds are especially attracted to red or yellow flowers. Recommended native plants that attract hummingbirds include Sophora, bottle brush, esperanza, pride of Barbados, and native Turk’s cap. Hibiscus, although not a native plant, also attract hummingbirds.

Worth Pondering…

Legends say that hummingbirds float free of time, carrying our hopes for love, joy, and celebration. The hummingbird’s delicate grace reminds us that life is rich, beauty is everywhere, every personal connection has meaning and that laughter is life’s sweetest creation.

—Papyrus

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