The hummingbirds are coming! The hummingbirds are coming! It is time to get those hummingbird feeders out of winter hibernation, clean them up, make up some nectar, and get them out in their summer spots. Our only eastern hummingbird species, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, is on its way north. A really fun way to watch their march northward is at the website: www.hummingbirds.net/map.html Aficionados post first arrival dates across the country and these are posted on a map of the United States.
These amazing creatures weigh only 3-1/2 grams on average yet make a nonstop, 1000 mile flight across the Gulf of Mexico twice each year. No, they do not hitchhike on the backs of larger birds to make the passage! They do bulk up on nectar and insects before departing. The transit, once they make landfall, is more leisurely, with Gulf Coast sightings in late February and Canadian arrivals by mid-May. This pace is what makes map watching so much fun. The timing is related to the presence of flowering plants for which they are important pollinators. Travel too quickly can create problems with nighttime temperatures. We suspect that they go into an overnight torpor in order to survive until breakfast on particularly cold nights.
Another source of amazement is something called “site fidelity.” Ruby-throated Hummingbirds often return to the very same location each year. This is one of the reasons that feeding these birds over a period of time tends to increase the number present in a particular yard. Often the new visitors are young from previous years returning to their birth site. Whether you entertain one hummingbird or an extended family, feeding Ruby-throated Hummingbirds is an activity not to be missed by backyard bird-feeding hobbyists. Enjoy!