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Wednesday, 19 August 2009 14:17

The Naturalist's Corner

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They’re back

Actually they’ve been back for a while and now their bags are packed and they’re ready to go. But first, it’s time to eat.

In early summer, every year, there is a buzz on most birding listservs regarding the dearth of hummingbirds. Usually by mid July or so there is a collective sigh of relief as hummingbirds mysteriously show up at feeders once again.

Each spring hummingbirds generally arrive in Western North Carolina around early to mid April. Mine have a habit of showing up on tax day (April 15.) When hummers first arrive people notice a lot of activity. What they are seeing is a lot of tired and hungry migrants jockeying for a sip of nectar. Many of these migrants will move on northward but a pair or so will likely stay in the neighborhood and set up housekeeping.

At first these residents will be quite noticeable around the feeder. They will be nectaring regularly plus there will be courtship displays and if there are birds competing for territory, there will be territorial displays and disputes.

Once the birds have paired and nesting season begins in earnest they will be less visible around the feeder. They will spend their time building a nest, laying eggs and then incubating those eggs. This is also the time when native wildflowers start to bloom so other food sources are also available. During this time I still get an occasional glimpse of my hummers — usually early in the morning and/or late in the evening as they sip in for a quick bite and leave. It’s not uncommon to have to empty old, unused food, from the feeder during the hummer doldrums.

Then around mid to late July the feeding station experiences a reawakening amid a cacophony of squeaks, twitters and the whirring of wings. Every time you turn around the feeder is empty, as adults and fledglings appear to partake of the buffet.

And your feeders are likely to stay busy from now through the end of September as ruby-throated hummingbirds begin their long trek back to Mexico and Central America. September is probably the peak migration month for ruby-throated humming birds in this region. I recently read that for every hummingbird you see at your feeder during peak migration, there are 10 you don’t see. So if you see five hummers at your feeder during the course of one day, as many as 50 may have passed through your yard.

One way to tell if you’re getting migrants through your yard is to watch for new males. Male ruby-throateds migrate first. If you notice nothing but females for a day or two and then a male shows up, it’s most likely a male from farther north. By the end of migration, however, usually all that’s left are females and/or juvenile males.

You can learn more about hummingbirds by attending a “Hummingbird Workshop” on Saturday, September 5, at Wild Birds Unlimited in Asheville. Simon Thompson owner of Venture Birding Tours and a partner at Wild Birds Unlimited will lead the workshop. For details and directions call 828.687.9433. Cost is $10 per person.

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