Hummingbird Xtravaganza (copy)

Banding team member Kay Lookingbill tags a ruby-throated hummingbird migrating for the winter during the 2018 Xtreme Hummingbird Xtravaganza at Gulf Coast Bird Observatory. Tagging is part of a study to check on hummingbirds’ migrating patterns.

They are starting to show up, a few at a time. They are staking out their favorite flowers and feeders. Their buzzy wingbeats can be heard in gardens all up and down the upper Texas Coast. They are fast and feisty. And they love sugar water!

Yup, they are back.

Well, they are back for a short time, to rest and bulk up for the remainder of their long journey way down south. The ruby-throated hummingbirds will soon be coming though in massive numbers, funneling down the coast and eventually heading out over the Gulf of Mexico toward the Yucatan in Mexico and beyond. Their yearly migration south for the winter is an astounding feat for such a tiny creature. They will need all the energy they can get while here, so they feed on nectar and small insects to build up a storehouse of fat.

While their main diet is nectar from mostly red tube-shaped flowers, they also glean tiny spiders and aphids in trees and shrubs. This gives them the extra protein they need. Of course, they also love to fight over the hummer feeders we offer them as a source for additional “nectar.” Just make sure that it is clean. Mix four parts of water and one part regular sugar. Do no add food coloring as it is bad for them. And change and clean it also once a week so mold will not grow.

Of course, native flowers are the best source of all. One of their favorites here is the Drummond’s Turk’s cap (Malvaviscus drummondii) with its upright, small red tubal flower and large heart-shaped leaves. If you want to plant only one plant, this is the one.

The height of teh hummingbirds’ fall migration is mid- to late September, and there will be tens of thousands of little ruby-throats buzzing through. There might be one or two other species mixed in, but very few, if any. This is the ruby-throats’ route.

To celebrate their annual journey, several locations offer community nature days and festivals. At the Gulf Coast Bird Observatory in Lake Jackson, there has been a long-standing event offered to young and old for 20 years now. The Xtreme Hummingbird Xtravaganza will be 8 a.m. to noon Sept. 14 and 21 at the observatory, 299 Highway 332 W.

It features hummers being captured, weighed, measured, studied and a tiny aluminum band placed on their legs. It’s all part of a long-term hummer migration study, and the public is invited to come view the banding. Hopefully dozens, maybe hundreds, of hummers will be banded.

The event also offers booths with live animals and educational activities, snack and shaved ice booths, symbolic adoption of a hummer with a certificate, native plant sales, nature store and hummer talks. And Sir Archie will be on the grounds! More information can be found at www.gcbo.org.

So, keep those feeders clean, full and enjoy these little marvels for a while.

Martin Hagne is the Executive Director at Gulf Coast Bird Observatory, a non-profit organization dedicated to saving the birds and their habitats. Learn more about the observatory at gcbo.org.

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