The Hummers Are Back!
Hummingbirds are back, and they’re ravenous.
This female ruby-throated hummingbird flew nonstop across the Gulf of Mexico just to reach Central Texas and feast on the nectar of this purple leatherflower (Clematis pitcheri). You’ll need more than feeders to help her prepare for breeding season. She’ll eat her own weight in food each day.
Experts say well-intentioned feeders just aren’t enough for hummingbirds, who also need flower nectar, water, shelter and space. And forget pesticides –hummingbirds like to eat insects and spiders lurking in flowers.
If you’d like to see more of her kind, or Archilochus colubris to be specific, LadyBird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin suggests you consider planting some of these central Texas native plants in your garden. Click here for a complete list. For ideas about how to plan an actual hummingbird garden, click here.
To learn more about the Spring 2017 hummingbird migration, click here.
Clean Your Feeders
If planting gardens really isn’t your thing, make sure you clean your feeders and change the food regularly, advises Elizabeth Bates, a wildlife biologist who works for Texas Parks and Wildlife Department in New Braunfels.
“The food can ferment and mold can grow,” she says. “During summer months this may need to be done every day.”
Kathleen Scott, a member of the Lindheimer Chapter of the Native Plant Society of Texas, spoke about the little birds on April 29 at the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service in Comal County.
She says one easy way to feed hummingbirds is to plant zinnias. They’re not native to the Hill Country, but they make great habitat plants for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds.
“Plus, they’re easy to grow, water-wise, and moderately deer resistant,” Scott says.
Black-chin hummingbirds like to nest and rear young in Canyon Lake. They live in the area from mid-March into early October.
“They’re the ones you’re most likely to see in the summer,” she says. “Ruby-throats are here primarily during spring and fall migration, around April to June and again from August to September.”
Rufous hummingbirds have begun “over-wintering” in the region.
“The numbers are modest but they are regulars at many feeders from December to mid-March. I always encourage folks to keep at least one feeder up all winter, and take it indoors on freezing nights so there is food available early the next day.”
According to Texas Parks & Wildlife, Texas are nine species of hummingbirds common to Texas and the others are occasional or rare visitors. Most are found in far west or south Texas or along the coast during the winter. All hummingbirds are attracted to red, tubular flowers. Ruby-throated hummingbirds are extremely territorial. They will vigorously defend a feeder or a group of flowers from other hummingbirds, hawk moths, and butterflies.
Hummers migrate through Texas in large numbers in the fall and mass along the coast, gaining critical bodyweight before attempting to cross the Gulf of Mexico. Male hummingbirds arrive first and establish a territory that they vigorously defend. Females are courted by the males flying in a u-shaped pattern in front of them. Nests are made from lichens and spider webs and lined with plant down.
Hummingbirds are the only birds able to fly backward!
Hummingbirds can drop their body temperature and become dormant during times of low food or cold weather. This process is called torpor.