Flight of the hummingbird
Birds are in fall migration process
September 21, 2014
By Linda Hartman/Victoria County Master Gardener
Edited by Charla Borchers Leon/Victoria County Master Gardener
PHOTO BY HENRY HARTMAN/CREATIVE IMAGES
PHOTO BY HENRY HARTMAN/CREATIVE IMAGES
Can you even comprehend that the world's largest mammal and the world's smallest bird would have anything in common?
Like the whale - which migrates from northern ocean waters to southern ocean waters - the little jewels of the sky migrate from the northern parts to the southern parts of our hemisphere during autumn, and back during spring.
Fortunately for gardeners and birders in Texas, several species of hummingbirds migrate through our state.
Why hummingbirds migrate
Because of changes in climate, the little hummingbirds move to cooler or warmer areas in search of food. Daylight, the angle of the sun and the availability of insects determine the timing of migration.
Before the flight the hummingbird will begin to eat more food, which will provide much needed energy for the long trip. It may increase its weight by one-fourth to one-half before the trip. As the food supply decreases in the northern parts of our country and Canada, the hummers instinctively know it is time to fly south toward Mexico and Central America.
After eating in the mornings, the hummingbird will fly during the day and stop to replenish its body in the late afternoon.
Of the more than 325 hummingbird species in the world, Texans may see about 18 different species of hummingbirds. The Rufous hummingbird is the champion as it flies from Mexico to Alaska, which is about 2,700 miles. This champ may over-winter along the coast of Texas.
The earliest sighting of the Ruby-throated hummingbird in Texas was March 2, with its final destination in the northern states in May, and ruby-throated hummers may be seen in the eastern half of Texas. Not all hummingbirds migrate because some species just "wander around," and are identified as nomadic hummers.
Hummingbirds migrate alone for safety and have been sighted resting on oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. One may see a hummingbird flying close to rooftops and the tops of trees. When there is activity around hummingbird feeders, it indicates a migration season.
Scouts usually precede others in their flight plan. Several Master Gardeners have commented that they spotted scouts the week of Labor Day, and the numbers of hummers have increased in the area since then. Perhaps the slightly cooler weather this past week encouraged the little travelers to speed along.
Hummingbirds in Texas
Various species can be found in western and eastern parts of Texas. They migrate south in the fall and north in the spring.
• Blue-throated (also along the coast)
• Green-breasted Mango (found along lower coast)
• Green Violet-ear
As gardeners we should provide flowers especially those with "throated" blooms such as Turk's cap, honeysuckle or crossvines, or zinnias for the spring migration. Autumn sage, flame acanthus, esperanza Texas Gold Star, which is a Superstar, and the cypress vine will provide food for the autumn migration.
Hummingbirds use the nectar for fuel to power the search for insects which is its main food.
It has been written about their massive nutritional needs that if a person had the same metabolism as a hummingbird, it would need to consume about 155,000 calories and drink 100 gallons of water every day.
Plants vs. feeders
Hummingbird feeders also provide a source of supplemental food for hummers. Follow the mixture recipe of 4 parts of water to 1 part of sugar. Boiling the mixture and allowing it to cool is the traditional method for the syrup, but one can mix and shake vigorously. Do not add red food coloring as it may harm the birds.
Great opportunities for gardeners/birders
The Texas Hummingbird Round-up is sponsored by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, which will provide a packet that contains a survey sheet, feeder maintenance tips and the official Quick Reference Guide.
The 26th Annual HummerBird Celebration is going on now through this weekend in Rockport-Fulton, and it is a worthy opportunity to study the whirling dervishes, hear speakers on a variety of birds, and purchase art work. After realizing that Rockport-Fulton was in a migratory flight path for hummingbirds, the community began to host its annual celebration of the little birds in 1988. Each year has seen an increase in attendance as visitors are intrigued by the hummingbirds. Try your luck at viewing these tiny, but mighty migrators.
Whether you attend a hummer event or not, make sure you help these tiny garden friends along their way with plants or feeders in your landscape. After all, Texans are known for their warm and friendly hospitality.
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or firstname.lastname@example.org, or comment on this column at www.VictoriaAdvocate.com.
For More Information
• Coral honeysuckle
• Turk's cap
• Autumn sage
• Cypress vine
• Pomegranate bush
• Trumpet vine
• Contain nectar, preferably sweet
• Red, orange and pink colors
• Do not have to be fragrant; hummers cannot smell