Early bird migration time means hummingbird time

Female ruby-throated hummingbird: Don’t Panic if you see a Ruby-throated Hummingbird past Labor Day. They don’t leave the upper Midwest until early October. photo by - Sharon Stiteler

 

Migration has started, folks. This is not a drill. Many of our birds are heading south, and we still have several months to enjoy the various waves of birds since migration will last through early December. Seasoned birders are watching radar at night for blue plumes of flocks of warblers that will begin the journey south or scanning mudflats for shorebirds. In your own yard you might see the signs of migration; one of the best is the sudden burst of hummingbird activity in mid- to late August.

We now have the most hummingbirds of the year since young have left the nest, and they haven’t quite headed south yet. Once the young exit the nest, females ease up a little and own the feeders, so you can see several at a time in August.

The secret to keeping hummingbirds happy with a feeder is to keep it clean and keep the nectar fresh. The recommended recipe is four parts water to one part sugar. Mix until sugar is dissolved. There’s no need to add red dye to the water, as the hummingbird feeder is bright enough to attract them. Nectar goes bad in about two days if it’s in direct sun and five days if it’s in a mostly shaded area. Treat it the way you’d treat a soda: Would you drink an open can of pop that had been sitting outside for five days? Would you?

If you are like me and can’t commit to keeping nectar fresh, you can always attract hummingbirds with flowers like impatiens, fuchsia, trumpet vine, and the vine cardinal climber.

That, however, is not the only way to attract hummingbirds. Never underestimate the importance of water. Hummingbirds lack the ability to use their feet for walking. They can only perch with their toes. If a perched hummingbird wants to face the other direction, it literally must lift up into the air with its wings, turn around and land. When a hummingbird needs to bathe, you will sometimes find them zipping back and forth through sprinkler spray. Recently, someone shared a special hummingbird bath that they made using a baking sheet and a sprinkler for hummingbirds.

As you watch the video  you’ll notice the hummingbirds kind of slide down and dip in the water, but they never walk in it. This is a simple, easy way to help keep them feathers fresh for their long migration. To try this in your yard, I’d recommend adding a bit of color to it – some reds or oranges just to get the hummingbirds’ attention.

A shallow bath like this may also appeal to smaller birds like goldfinches and warblers, so watch for colorful surprises.

And remember, do not freak out if you see a hummingbird at your feeder, flowers, or birdbath after Labor Day. It’s quite common to see them through early October. These are hardy birds that can cross the Gulf of Mexico on their own two wings. They can also survive a few nights below freezing, too.

 

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