Ruby-throated hummingbirds are back! Well, actually, there’ve been a few reported in Oklahoma, so they’re not all back just yet.
Many ruby-throats have made their way to the United States by now. However, they’re still migrating, and they tend to move north slowly.
Folks on the Texas coast get to enjoy ruby-throats beginning in late February or early March, while residents in Canada, eh, might not see any until May.
And since the Ada area had a 32-degree morning Sunday, I’m sure the hummingbirds are taking their time!
I’ve been following reports of feeder visits throughout south and east Texas, a few seen here and a few seen there. Nowhere near the dozens of birds that thousands of people will no-doubt report at their feeders by mid-May.
And because there is just so much to write about the ruby-throated hummingbird, this column will be a two-parter, with part two coming next Saturday.
I must report so much because the ruby-throated hummingbird is truly an amazing bird. Its heartbeat, how many times its wings beat, etc. And also, its migration.
About the migration
My late grandmother used to feed hummingbirds. Lots of hummingbirds. And she certainly knew a lot about feeding them and their behavior at feeders. However, like many folks, she didn’t know much about them beyond that. About their lives away from the feeder and how they migrate, and where they migrate to.
Ruby-throats winter mostly in southern Mexico and Central America.
Many ruby-throated hummingbirds travel 600 miles across the open water of the Gulf of Mexico in a non-stop 24-hour flight. For spring migration, beginning in about late February, RTHs leave the Yucatan Peninsula and head for the United States.
The birds will double their weight prior to migration. With each weighing about the same as two pennies, they will lose half their body weight flying over the Gulf.
However, as tough as the flight is when the weather is right, it can be treacherous when it’s not.
When migratory birds leave the Yucatan, they will only do so when the weather is nice there. However, the birds don’t know if there are storms brewing off the coastal United States. Or if a nasty cold front will meet them halfway. And if that’s the case, many birds wind up drowning in the ocean.
While it was once believed that all ruby-throats flew across the ocean during migration it was later discovered that at least some circumnavigate the Gulf.
The only thing that is certain about ruby-throated hummingbirds’ migration, is that more research is needed.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology reports that there are ruby-throats that winter in the United States in areas along the Gulf Coast, citing climate change as a possible cause. However, it is believed that these birds may be migrants from more northerly environs and not permanent residents.
Now, I’ve already said they are amazing. But they are also as cute as can be and I love watching them, as many people do.
However, ruby-throated hummingbirds can be a bunch of jerks!
Before you curse my name and throw the paper down, by that, I mean they are not very nice to each other. They are not a social bunch. At all. They see every other hummingbird as a competitor for food. If you feed them, you’ve no doubt seen them fight with each other.
Heck, even raising of the young is a solitary affair. Once courtship and mating have occurred, the male flies off to do his own thing, while the female is left to care for the young.
And about them not getting along at feeders, it was so frustrating last year, as I had a large male bully who kept virtually every other bird away from the feeders. Much nectar went to waste as he was the king over all of them. Eventually, he was overwhelmed by additional visitors about a month prior to migration and stopped being a bully. Can’t we all just get along?
Feeding hummingbirds nectar
I’m sometimes asked when people should put out their hummingbird feeders in the spring. The truth is, I don’t know.
You can put up a feeder whenever you want. However, just remember that the sugar water must be changed before it becomes toxic.
Heck, a resident in Arkansas was quite anxious to attract hummingbirds, so they put up a feeder in February. Of course, no ruby-throats showed up that early, but they were shocked when an Allen’s hummingbird showed up to feed! That’s a West Coast bird that winters in Southern California and an area around Mexico City. How lucky that was!
I put out one feeder this week, and we’ll see how it goes.
Now, I don’t offer store-bought nectar. There is some scuttlebutt that store-bought nectar may have stuff in it that isn’t good for the birds. So, I just make my own, which is less expensive anyway.
I make nectar by mixing table sugar and water. That’s one part sugar to four parts water. I often use one cup of table sugar to four cups of filtered water, or water that has been boiled (then cooled), mix, and then refrigerate.
Also, a one- to three-parts mixture can be created before the birds migrate in the fall. It helps fatten them up.
Now, it is also advisable to make sure nectar is about room temperature before placing it outside. Never too cold or too hot.
And, it is recommended that nectar not be allowed to sit outside until it becomes toxic. I change mine after about 36 to 48 hours in summer and about 72 hours when temperatures are cooler. Also, I clean each container at every refill, before any black mold forms.
And some people believe nectar feeders shouldn’t be placed where the sun will shine directly on them. Just out of caution, I keep mine in the shade.
Have I missed anything about feeding nectar to ruby-throats? Have a tip? Let me know at the email below.
That’s all for now concerning ruby-throats. Next week, I’ll write about their descriptions — not that most people don’t know what they look like — and also what they eat, what flowers attract them, nesting, etc.
Before I conclude
I need to also mention that I recently responded to a question by a person who wanted to know how long she should continue offering nyjer to the finches.
I never really tell someone what they should do. I merely offer advice, which can be taken or not.
I keep mine up until all the American goldfinches have flown north.
Goldfinches, while always wonderful-looking birds, become quite vivid when breeding season comes around. I have male goldfinches visiting my feeder right now where their breeding plumage is almost complete. So yellow!
When they are in full breeding plumage, it is quite spectacular.
Randy Mitchell is a freelance writer and photographer. He has been an avid birdwatcher, nature enthusiast and photographer for 40 years. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.