Monday, September 8, 2014

The Hummers Are Here!

Reports are coming in from across Texas as the hummingbird migration begins. One measure of the size of the population is the number of hummers at feeders. I put my feeders out a few weeks ago and have had erratic feeding until this past week. Now there are three or four birds that stop several times a day.

As a reminder, the formula for nectar is 1:4 sugar to water. Only use regular sugar--no organic brown
sugar, raw sugar, or powdered sugar. Some raw and brown sugars have honey or other additives that can be harmful to the birds. Do NOT add coloring or buy the premixed nectar that is red. It is not necessary and may be harmful. Also unless your water is especially hard you don't need to boil the water. Just ensure that the sugar has mixed in well. Be sure the feeders are clean. That black stuff is mold that can cause the nectar to spoil quickly. What feeders you use isn't as important as being able to clean thoroughly (and types of feeders is a subject for another post). Hummers are territorial so if you are attracting more than a couple of birds you need multiple feeders. Just don't fill each feeder all the way as you need to change the nectar every couple of days in the summer heat.

If you aren't getting birds at your feeders, you'll really enjoy watching the hummer cams. A Rockport group, WWN, puts out a camera that streams live. Check it out at

For a real immersion into hummingbirds, plan to attend the 2014 Rockport HummerBird Festival, September 18-21. Hundreds of hummers can be seen at homes that open their gardens to festival-goers. People often comment about the number of hummers that swarm around (I suggested it was like swarming flies one year there were so many circling me.) and how close you get to them. It's free to tour the hummer homes and maps can be picked up at the local Chamber of Commerce office.

Hummer "butt"
While most of the birds in this area are ruby-throated hummingbirds, last year a calliope stopped by for the festivities, attracting quite a crowd at Zachary Taylor Park. One really fun thing is to watch the master bander putting little tiny bracelets on hummers so that they can be tracked. Two years ago I was able to see a sight few see--a hummingbird's bottom! The banders catch the hummers in mesh sacks, weigh them, check for gender, place the band, and then release them. Often one of the watchers is allowed to hold the hummingbird for the few seconds it takes the bird to get itself together to fly off.

Calliope Hummingbird
In addition to seeing the birds, as well as many other birds that are migrating through the coastal bend, the festival offers exceptional classes, programs, and tours. I was able to spot a number of birds on the bus tour to Fennessey Ranch including a green jay! This year I'm planning to take one of the photography classes offered. Check out the schedule for information on the other events and programs, including a lecture by Sharon Stitele, aka Birdchick. ( I just learned she also shares abeekeeping operation with Neil Gaiman. Yes, Neil Gaiman!) Her book, 1001 Secrets Every Birder Should Know provides practical tips along with humorous information about birding. Other programs focus on making your garden bird friendly, endangered hummingbirds, Texas woodpeckers, and more. While the focus is on hummingbirds, the event is called the HummerBird Festival to include the many other species in the area. I'm planning to hit several of the programs and will write up some of what I learn in a future post.

Oh, but I can't forget...the festival also features a shopping mall with everything birds and birding. I'm planning to find a bird bath! In the meantime, I need to put out fresh nectar. The birds are getting impatient.