Tuesday, July 18, 2006

hummingbird feeder : Houston is a migratory pit stop on the hummingbird highway

Copyright 2006 Houston Chronicle

Get ready for the influx of ruby-throated hummingbirds. Thousands of the little sprites will be flying through Houston from late July to October.

Male ruby-throats with their glistening red throat feathers called gorgets will begin showing up within the next two weeks. Some have already arrived. Their bright red gorgets are actually the result of feather structures bending light waves like a prism to reveal the red spectrum.

But there's no red gorget on the females. So one way to identify them is by the white spots on the outer tail feathers. Males lack those white tail spots. Juvenile males look almost identical to females but often have tiny red blotches on the throat.

Females will begin arriving in August, followed a little later by juveniles.

Ruby-throated hummers migrating through Houston are on their way from breeding grounds farther north in eastern North America to wintering grounds in Mexico and Central America. Their numbers peak in mid-September and trail off by the end of October.

They'll stick around for days or weeks at a time as they build up body fat by guzzling nectar from flowers and sugar water from hummingbird feeders. Increased body fat fuels their grueling flight over or around the Gulf of Mexico to Latin America.

Female ruby-throats are pugnacious, fiercely defending a hummingbird feeder or nectar flower not only against each other but also against males and juveniles.

Watch a female as she stakes out a hummingbird feeder. She'll perch on a nearby twig, coming to sip nectar periodically and bushwhacking any other hummingbird that tries to slurp nectar at the feeder.

Watching a hummingbird poke its long thin beak into a tubular flower or a feeder gives the illusion that the bird is sucking nectar through its beak, like sucking through a straw. Not so. The hummingbird laps up nectar with capillary action and tubular membranes in a tongue that can extend well beyond the tip of the beak.

Attracting ruby-throats to your backyard requires fresh water, shelter and nectar. Fresh water can be provided in a shallow birdbath, shelter can be provided by trees and shrubs, and nectar can come from flowers or hummingbird feeders.

Nectar-rich tubular flowers such as salvia and buddleia can be grown in a garden or placed in containers on a deck or patio. Hummingbird feeders filled with one part white table sugar to four parts tap water furnish birds nutrition similar to flower nectar.

The old saw that you should take hummingbird feeders down before winter so that hummingbirds will migrate is malarkey. The presence of a feeder cannot impede the biological forces impelling migration.

Naturalist Gary Clark and photographer Kathy Adams Clark can be reached at http://home.houston.rr.com/wondersofnature/.


Blogger Ashley said...

Great information! Are there any specific feeders you recommend? I found those Perky-Pet Top Fill feeders while searching online. They look ultra easy to fill, especially since you don’t have to use a funnel to fill them because of their wide-mouth top. Have you used them yet?

9:09 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home