If you enjoy seeing hummingbirds, get ready: The fall feeding frenzy is about to begin.
Starting somewhere around the middle of August and continuing well into the fall, you’re likely to find a lot of hummingbirds flitting around your feeders. In some cases, they’ll be eating so much that they’re keeping your feeders in a perennial state of emptiness.
It’s near the time when hummingbirds’ appetites become ravenous because they’re storing up energy for fall migration. This increased feeding activity by resident birds will be coupled with an increase in the number of hummingbirds seen because young birds are feeding with the adults. In later weeks, numbers will be further swelled by migrating hummingbirds coming through. The bottom line to all this is that, in the weeks ahead, there’s going to be a lot of hummingbird feeding taking place.
What people are seeing at their feeders are ruby-throated hummingbirds, which is the main hummingbird species found in Missouri. People are fascinated with hummingbirds for a variety of reasons. One reason is the way they hover at feeders and dart back and forth. (Hummingbirds can flap their wings up to 75 times per second and are the only birds that can fly backwards.) Also their tiny size makes them a bird that’s easy to be intrigued by.
A hummingbird’s instinct tells it to eat now because it has a great deal of traveling to do in the weeks ahead. Ruby-throated hummingbirds winter in southern Mexico and Central America. From here, that’s a long trip for a little bird. Some southerly flying hummingbirds follow land-based routes to their winter destinations, but others take a more remarkable route. Based on sightings and data that has been collected, it’s believed some hummingbirds fly non-stop across the Gulf of Mexico from the Gulf Coast of the U.S. to winter homes in Central America. This is a continuous flight of more than 20 hours and approximately 500 miles.
If all this talk of long flights has urged you to give your local hummingbirds some food for the road, you’re in luck: Feeding hummingbirds is a task that doesn’t require much set-up. Some people hang hummingbird feeders to add to the bird-feeding arrangement they’ve already put together around their house. Other people focus solely on hummingbirds because they don’t have the room or budget for elaborate bird-feeding set-ups. Hummingbird feeders are relatively inexpensive and what you put in them (a sugar-water solution) is cheaper than any other type of bird feeder ingredients you’ll find. If you’re shopping for a hummingbird feeder, consider those that have bee or wasp guards. These plastic mesh covers prevent insects from reaching the sugar water inside. The solution you put in the feeder is a simple mix; four parts water to one part sugar. Don’t add red food coloring to this solution. Instead, make sure the hummingbird feeder you buy is red (most are). Change nectar weekly or more often if the solution becomes cloudy. Between fillings, clean the feeder thoroughly to reduce bacteria growth.
A good source of information on hummingbirds and hummingbird feeding is the Missouri Department of Conservation booklet “Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in Missouri.” This free publication is available at most Department of Conservation offices. Information on hummingbirds can also be found at mdc.mo.gov.
Francis Skalicky is the media specialist for the Department of Conservation’s Southwest Region. For more information about conservation issues, call 417-895-6880.