Yesterday was a beautiful spring day in Oklahoma, but this morning the north wind is howling and I have the fireplace roaring. The only thing consistent about spring weather on the plains is the wind. One day it blows 30 mph from the south and the next day it blows 30 mph from the north. Even though the coming week is going to be more like winter than summer, the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are headed this way. I usually see the first males pass through my Norman yard in the last week of March.
Photo by L. Dillon. Click to enlarge.
I’ve always been fascinated by the hummingbird migration. It’s almost unbelievable that this teeny fluff of feathers can fly 450 miles into a head wind and cross the Gulf of Mexico. Before migration hummers fatten up for the journey, increasing their body weight 25-40 percent. If most birds gained that much weight, they wouldn’t be able to get off the ground.
A lot of folks don’t realize that insects are an important part of hummers’ diet. If flowers aren’t available, the hummingbirds will switch to insects to survive. Insects are also a part of their regular diet. I’ve observed them eating ants and several times watched them pluck swarming gnats from the air. Late last summer I saw them competing with Blue-gray Gnatcatchers for the tiny insects on sunflowers. When it comes to high-performance aerobatic flying, the teeny hummers are unequaled. They are the only bird that can hover and even fly backwards.
Too many people think all they have to do is hang out a feeder to attract hummingbirds. Migrating hummingbirds readily use feeders, but when the males select their territory they are looking for a supply of flowers with nectar, insects and water in a small area. When the first males come thorough my yard they will find some Red Columbine as well as the wildflowers on the red dirt hill behind the house. It will be covered with Indian Paintbrush, one of their favorite foods. I also have Butterfly Bushes, Coral Honeysuckle, Lantana, milkweed and a Desert Willow in the yard to keep a dependable food supply nearby throughout the season. These same plants also attract butterflies. The more native plants you have on your property, the more hummingbirds, butterflies and songbirds you’ll attract.
You can watch the hummingbird migration here http://www.learner.org/jnorth/maps/humm_ruby_spring2013.html Nearest one at this point is near Abilene, TX. Who will be the first to report one in Oklahoma? If I were a betting man, I’d put my money on David Arbor, the biologist at Red Slough.