Fall's Journey South
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Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Austwell Texas
September 8, 1997
Fifth grade student Julie Tornquist (email@example.com), who lives in northern Maine just across the border from New Brunswick, Canada, reported on August 25th: "We have noticed that the humming birds have disappeared in the last week. They were busier than usual at the feeders for a week or so and they just disappeared."
The hummingbirds follow a trail of nectar all the way to Mexico, and the Texas Coast is an important "pit-stop" for refueling.
Some will continue their journey over
land, but others will set off on an incredible non-stop, flight over
water--traveling 600 miles across the Gulf of Mexico before landing
on the Yucatan Peninsula.
"Thousands of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are flowing into
the area now, swarming hummingbird feeders and nectar flowers,"
says Cynthia Womak of Rockport, Texas. "You can see they
are exhausted and ravenously hungry. Every year they arrive about
this time. We love it when the Ruby's visit!" In fact, some
5,000 people from all across Texas are coming this weekend to
celebrate the Ruby-throats' arrival during the annual Hummer/Bird
Festival which Ms. Womak organizes. Local residents started the
festival in 1988 to focus attention on hummingbirds, and to encourage
community-based habitat restoration projects to benefit hummingbirds
as well as other local wildlife.
A few miles from Rockport is Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, the first stop on our National Wildlife Refuge Hot Spots tour. Its 55,000 acres of wild land along the Texas Gulf Coast is a welcome sight to migrating birds during both the fall and the spring migration. It is truly a "refuge" for them, because it provides safe stopover habitat during their travels. The varied habitat at Aransas--marshes, grasslands and coastal forests--support some 389 different bird species--one of the longest bird lists of any of the national wildlife refuges!
Thousands and thousands of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds can be found here from late August to early October. The Ruby-throats, and four other species of hummingbirds, come to Aransas to feed on small red flowers known as Turk's Cap, and other brightly colored nectar flowers, in the forest and brush land areas of the refuge.
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are one of the few migratory bird species whose population is actually increasing--by approximately 1.5% per year in the United States. According to US Fish & Wildlife Service biologists, this is due in large part to people who have made food sources readily availability to hummingbirds. Hummingbird gardens, nectar feeders and restored habitats give the tiny birds the extra boost of energy they need to continue on their way.
Ruby-throated Hummingbirds (Archilochus colubris) are the only hummingbird species which breed east of the Mississippi. They are only about 3 1/2 inches long and weigh a fraction of an ounce. Their primary food supply is nectar, which they drink by reaching deeply into flowers with their long and strong tongues. To stay alive, Ruby-throats, must visit thousands of flowers each day to obtain enough food. To save energy, Ruby-throats often enter an almost dormant state at night---their metabolism dropping by as much as 90%! Hummingbirds are also extremely maneuverable. They can hover motionless and can even fly backwards.
"Perhaps more than any other bird, the Ruby-throated Hummingbirds
signal the positive benefits people can have when they take small
steps to improve habitat in their backyards. Teachers and students
can contribute to the positive side of this equation for hummingbirds
by conducting habitat projects at school sites." states Cynthia
Other Fall Nature Notes: