I was planning for a trip recently, making out my lists of things to do before I leave, what to pack and errands to run. While granola bars were on my packing list, there were no reminders to gain 25-40 percent of my body weight. Most of us think of trying to lose weight before heading south for the winter.
Eating voraciously is exactly what the ruby-throated hummingbirds do before their annual trip to Central America. The fall hummingbird migration typically starts at the end of July, reaching a peak in late August and early September. Decreasing daylight triggers the birds to eat intensely and gain fat. When they have packed on enough weight they will begin their journey south, covering around 23 miles each day.
They fly low, just above the treetops, so they can easily spot nectar sources. Feeding in the morning, they fly during mid-day and then stop again in the evening to refuel. Hummingbirds are carnivores; the nectar or sugar they eat merely fuels their insect catching activity. They will even take insects out of spiderwebs and then eat the spiders.
You may notice more hummingbirds in your gardens or at the feeders this time of year as the migration peaks. They will fly to Florida, Louisiana or Texas to refuel before starting the almost 600 mile journey across the Gulf of Mexico. The adult males start migrating first to establish their winter territories. By mid-September most of the hummingbirds seen in our area will be younger males, females, and adult females. The flashy ruby throats are replaced by darker feathered juveniles.
You can help the hummingbirds along their journey by keeping your hummingbird feeders out until mid-October. Use 1/4 cup of table sugar mixed in a cup of water and change the nectar every 3-5 days. It is best to clean your feeder out with hot water and a brush; do not use soap. Think of places in your yard you could add flowers to feed hummingbirds throughout the season next year, including columbine, bee balm, petunias, day-lilies, salvia, butterfly bush or coral bells.
If you have the pleasure of seeing hummingbirds darting around your yard this fall take a moment to think about the great journey that lies ahead of them. Hummingbirds do not migrate in large flocks; many times they make the trip alone. No GPS, no AAA, no weather report to help them along the way. How these juvenile birds who have never migrated can make this trek is truly an amazing feat of nature.