Hummingbird Migration Heads North to Illinois!
May 9th, 2012
My little bluebird friend at Heartland Lodge told me just the other day that he was beginning to see hummingbirds around the hummingbird feeders at the lodge. Does this mean that the hummingbird migration has begun? Wanda has always had birds around her feeders, but Dan and I definitely saw more activity last year when we were there in September than we had in years before.
So, being the photography buff that I am, I stood on the front porch of the new lodge and waited patiently for the frenzy to begin. With both cameras in hand, I started snapping as many hummingbird photos as I could – and I took lots of pictures to get just a few good ones. I have included the better ones for your viewing pleasure. Those little wings beat pretty fast when in motion! Did you know that common small hummers like the ruby-throated hummingbird average a wingbeat rate of 53 per second while in normal flight? Try moving YOUR arms that fast!
We take many things granted in life, in nature, in our surroundings – and hummingbirds are not immune from that. When I decided to write this week’s blog about hummingbirds, I certainly needed to learn a little bit more about them. So I hit the Internet and found out that I actually knew very little about these little birds.
As with many species of birds, there are differences between the male and female hummingbirds – especially in the hummingbird migration patterns. By migrating northward in the spring, sometimes as much as three weeks earlier, the males get the “pick” territory. This early migration improves their chances of attracting the females for breeding when the females arrive a little later in the spring. The females search out more fully developed flowers along their spring migration route, which is why they will arrive later than the males. Whether you want to attract the early-bird males or the females who arrive later, a reliable food source is important. So put your food supplies out early! This helps ensure a plentiful food supply as well as the possibility of many hummers for your viewing and enjoyment pleasure.
What type of food source draws the most activity? Flower nectar is the natural source. But sugar or syrup water – made at home – is probably the most popular. The website hummingbirds.net contains some great information on different types of feeders, where to place them, and filling and maintaining them along with a recipe and guidelines for making your own nectar – check it out! One thing I did learn is that the common practice of adding red food coloring to your sugar water can actually be harmful to the birds – so leave out the food coloring and your food source will be much safer!
What happens next? You’ve hung & filled your feeders and now you have hummingbirds – but then you notice that the activity around your feeders is slowing down. The nesting season occurs just after the females arrive so if it is late May, the nesting season has probably begun. The female ruby-throat doesn’t like building a nest in the male’s feeding territory so secluded wetlands are her primary choice for nesting.
Once hatched, the chicks need protein so the female catches small insects and spiders. During this time, you might still see the males around your feeder – but only early or late in the day. During the rest of the day, the males are most likely looking for protein of their own – to fatten up for the fall migration. Once the chicks leave the nest – or ‘fledge’ in hummingbird terms – the activity around the feeders will increase again. Natural hummingbird food sources diminish throughout the summer so your feeder will be a definite attraction for the families of birds. Just be sure to keep the feeders cleaned and filled with fresh nectar – you’ll be enjoying the hummers while helping them survive and prepare for their trip back southward!
The fall, or southward migration, usually begins between July and November and will depend on where you live. In the cetnral Illinois/Missouri area, you can usually see birds through late-September unless we have an early frost. The decreasing daylight triggers hormonal changes in hummingbirds so they cannot be forced to migrate early by taking your feeders down early. They may actually be visiting your feeder more often just before their fall migration, as they need to nearly double their normal body weight before embarking on their trip.
It is recommended that you document your hummingbird activity from year to year. There are web sites where you can post your sightings as well as hummingbird pictures. The Illinois Audubon Society also hosts banding events throughout the season so look for one in your area. What a great way to document the travels of these amazing little creatures.
So back to my day of taking pictures on the front porch of the lodge! You will notice that the feeder has perches, which I guess some photographers do not like because they want pictures of the hovering birds. But look – there are at least eight (if not nine) birds sitting on the perches! How many times have you seen that many birds sitting still? While I thought I had a great photo, I actually discovered that these birds were conserving calories! Hovering at a feeder is more tiring to them so I guess these little guys (or gals) were resting!
As with anything in nature, there are no guarantees. Whether you are new to the world of feeding hummingbirds, or have done it for years, you will definitely see changes throughout the year. But with a little bit of research and a lot of patience, you should soon reap the rewards of your efforts. Wanda and her staff at Heartland Lodge have always had hummingbirds paying a visit – and you will too!
So if you are visiting the lodge for the day or have booked an overnight stay, be sure to check out the hummingbirds! Bring an identification guide and see if you can determine the males from the females from the young chicks. Relax in one of the locally made Adirondack chairs on the porch and wait for the activity to begin. But watch your back – you might need to duck sometimes as I have seen many hummingbirds ‘dive-bomb’ the feeders! Sometimes it seems as though there are no friends at the table. But grab your camera, relax and be patient, and enjoy the show!