HUMMINGBIRDS COME BACK LIKE THE SWALLOWS OF CAPISTRANO
By Vince Jackson
Do some birds return to the same area year after year? In most cases the answer is “yes” they do come back to the same place. How they navigate is a tougher question.
Many people say they witness, in early spring, hummingbirds returning to same spot where a nectar feeder hung the year before. It is as if the bird is searching for that feeder, they say. Birds have the ability to orient on a location and return to the same area the next year by some method that is not completely understood, say bird experts.
John James Audubon, American bird painter and ornithologist, wondered if it was true that the same birds returned each year to his farm in New York. To prove his theory Audubon tied a silk thread to a young phoebe’s leg one summer morning. Come spring the same bird returned and nested in the place it was hatched the year before. Audubon may have been the first to prove that birds can navigate and that their migrations are not random.
Hummers that spent the winter in Mexico are now taking up residence again in the Upstate and are enjoying flowers and feeders provided for them. Steve Holzman of the Georgia Ornithological Society offers the following tips to safely attract and watch hummingbirds:
The commercial red dye nectar products are unnecessary and might even be harmful to hummers. To make nectar boil one cup of water and add ¼ cup of white sugar, never use any other type of sweetener, artificial or natural, to feed hummingbirds. Homemade nectar can be safely stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
It is important to change the nectar in feeders every three days. Black mold will form in the feeder if the nectar is left outside too long. The mold can be harmful to the birds. Clean the feeder with soap and water and allow it to dry before refilling.
Purchase a feeder that can be easily disassembled for cleaning. Many feeders on the market are not easy to clean and can cause health problems for hummingbirds if used when contaminated.
Birds are sometimes disoriented by reflections in large picture windows. Many times birds will fly into a window with enough force to be killed or injured. Caution should be used when placing any bird feeder near large windows.
Hummers are real acrobats performing feats by rapidly flying in circles or changing direction quickly and darting off in a new direction. They can even flying backward. It is untrue that hummingbirds do not have feet and never perch, but this myth continues to be recited as fact. Hummers perch quite often and draw their feet and legs close to their body when in flight.
Hummingbirds are attracted to areas near streams and lakes, but will nest in heavily wooded areas. Their nest is about the circumference of a half dollar and is made of lichen and spider web.
Hummers do seem to like the color red, so red flowers like salvias, cardinal flower, bee balm and trumpet creeper, or cow itch, will attract them. Hummingbirds will show interest in most any bell-shaped flower that produces abundant nectar. Experiment with plantings and see what works best to attract these birds.
Fall is the best time to see large numbers of hummingbirds, when the young begin to fly and the population literally doubles. September and October are prime months for viewing North America’s smallest bird, so make sure feeders are set-up at that time. By mid-October the birds are actively migrating and will not return until April of the next year. Hummers are very aggressive and have been known to attack much larger birds, like hawks, as well as each other.
Enjoy hummingbirds by feeding properly, placing feeders in safe locations and learning as much as you can about them.