The Hummers are Coming!

Broad-tailed Hummingbird_RedRocksRanch-Hwy115-CO_LAH_3795

The bee balm (Monarda) and mint hyssop (Agastache) won’t bloom until mid-summer, and the flowers on my California fuchsia (Epilobium canum) appear even later. Yet, despite the lack of these hummingbird favorites, the birds are on the move, heading north to nest. While I like to think that I’m aiding their survival, I know they will do fine without me. Still, I’m hustling to fill and hang my feeders. It isn’t that the birds need me—I need them!

At our previous house, we could put the arrival of the Broad-tailed Hummingbirds on the calendar, they were that punctual. Even if I hadn’t remembered to put out some sugar-water, the birds would flit back and forth under the empty hook, looking annoyed. They have a good memory! This will be our fourth summer in our current  home, and I don’t yet know the birds’ schedule. I figure it’s better to be too early than too late, so I’ll have things ready by the end of this week. Calling April 15 “hummingbird day” is far more enjoyable than calling it tax day.

So how do I know that the hummers are coming, given that I haven’t seen a single arrival at this point? There’s this intriguing map available that shows the current status of this year’s hummingbird migration. You can find it at Hummingbirdcentral.com.

black-chinned-hummingbird_redrocksranch-hwy115-co_lah_3777What I appreciate about this map is that the birds are broken out by species. I can clearly see that our Broad-tailed Hummers are the first to arrive, but that the Black-chinned (right) aren’t far behind. Surprisingly, there have already been Broad-tailed sightings here in Colorado, not only in Colorado Springs, where I live, but even north of Denver (in Lyons, just downhill from Rocky Mountain National Park). They’re clearly following the Front Range northward.

Rufous Hummingbird @home LAH_6852rZooming the map outward, I am stunned to discover that Rufous Hummingbirds (right), which migrate northward along the Pacific flyway, then back south through Colorado, have been seen in Alaska—in April! I realize that they have a long way to go from their tropical wintering grounds, but seriously— that far north, what can they possibly find to eat at this time of year?

Anna's Hummingbird_MorroBay-CA_LAH_0394Most enticing is the cluster of differently-colored icons crowded into southern Arizona. Anna’s (left), Costa’s, Rufous, Black-chinned, Buff-bellied, Rivoli’s (formerly known as Magnificent), and Blue-throated Hummingbirds make this part of the country a tempting destination for a short birding trip, with more species to come as the season progresses.

I’m impressed by the daring of these seemingly fragile birds. While the early part of the week will be in the 70s, we also have a blizzard warning. I’d hate to be flying when the snow and wind arrive! Hummers are tougher than they look, however, and can ride out the storm in a state of torpor, reducing their energy needs by letting their metabolism slow and their body temperature drop.

Since the forecast is for temperatures in the low 20s, there’s no point in hanging a feeder until the weather warms a bit. (The freezing point of my sugar water solution is 26-27 degrees F.) Still, I’ve put sugar on my shopping list, and I’m hauling out the feeders I so carefully washed and stored last fall.

Feeding hummingbirds is easy, and there’s no need to buy the manufactured sugar syrup. (In fact, there’s some concern about the safety of the red dye typically added to these products.) Simply add 1 cup of plain old granulated sugar to 4 cups of hot water, and stir until the sugar dissolves. (If it doesn’t dissolve, your water isn’t hot enough.) Cool a bit, then fill your feeders. Store unused syrup in the refrigerator.

Broad-billed Hummingbird_PatagoniaAZ_20100509_PLH_4872.NEF

Replace the contents and clean your feeders every few days, even if they’re not empty. Check every day to make sure that the water isn’t cloudy, which indicates bacterial growth. Feeders hung in the sun will need more frequent cleaning. If insects try to horn in on the sugar, use a saucer-type feeder. They won’t be able to reach the sugar water, but the hummers can still get a drink with their long tongues.

If you hear hummingbirds in your neighborhood, but they don’t seem to be noticing your feeder, add something bright red to your yard in a place that’s easily visible from above. Once the birds find the feeder, they’ll remember it as a food source.


The answer to last week’s bird quiz is Pelagic Cormorant.

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