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Hummingbird Migration Update: April 27, 2000

Today's Report Includes:

Latest Migration Maps and Data
The Ruby-throated hummingbird migration is moving more into the central US, and Rufous hummingbirds have reached parts of Canada and Alaska!
Maps courtesy of Lanny Chambers.
Visit his Hummingbird Website!



After looking at the migration maps, how will you answer:

Challenge Question #11
"Why do you think Rufous hummingbirds reach the Canadian border BEFORE they reach Idaho?"

Challenge Question #12
"Why do hummingbirds move northward so gradually, for 8-10 weeks from March to mid-May, while orioles push northward during a single week in late April or early May?"

(To respond to these questions, please follow the instructions below.)

Lanny's Hummers Home
Lanny Chambers, our hummingbird guru, said his first bird appeared April 16. Lanny reports, "He was wearing a band! I haven't been able to read the number yet, but he's almost certainly the same male that was banded in my yard as an adult in 1998, and that spent all last summer defending one of my feeders. That would make him at least 2 years and 9 months old.

The second bird arrived on April 21. The two of them immediately got into a fight, natch."

What's the fighting about? Keep reading. . .

Everybody Out!
Male hummingbirds usually arrive on the breeding grounds way ahead of the females and start to establish their territories--very serious business! They look for areas with lots of nectar-rich flowers and with perches from which they can survey their domain. The size of a hummer's territory varies with the number of flowering plants and the amount of nectar those plants will provide, but an average territory is about 1/4 of an acre (about 1/4 the size of a football field). If the flowers in his territory finish blooming, the male knows what to do: he simply changes his territory to another spot with more flowers.

Any hummingbird that enters the territory, whether male or female, gets chased÷probably the reason why Lanny's hummers were fighting. Remember, hummers are feisty and pugnacious! If the bird doesn't leave, the territory holder may respond with several types of aerial displays, such as diving, spreading his tail, or other displays. Not only the males, but females defend territories around the nest, and sometimes around food sources too.

Romantic Hummers? NOT!

Photo: Larry Gates

Very little is known about courtship in ruby-throated hummingbirds. Maybe you can help solve this mystery through your own observations! The whole point of courtship, however, is clear: to mate and have young.

Do hummers keep the same mate season after season? No. They don't even stay together to raise the babies. The female does ALL the work herself, and a male hummer will mate with any females he can attract to his territory.

A Good Place For Eggs

Photo: Larry Gates

Females build the nests, using soft plant down and other plant fibers. They cover these with lichen, moss, and bud scales, all bound together with spider silk. They line the nests with soft plant down. A hummingbird nest is about the size of a ping-pong ball, and a cozy place for the eggs.

The female Ruby-throat lays two eggs, one day apart. She has two or sometimes three broods in a summer. The female Rufous may lay 1-3 eggs, but usually two, and has one or sometimes two broods. The white eggs are the size of little jellybeans and each weighs one hundredth of an ounce.

When temperatures are cooler, she sits tightly over her eggs to keep them warm. In warmer weather, she may simply stand beside the nest or perhaps try to shade the eggs from the sun. The baby Rufous hummingbirds hatch after an incubation period of 12-14 days. Hummer babies are born with eyes closed, no feathers, completely helpless, and very hungry! Rufous hummers fledge after 20 days in the nest. For Ruby-throats, the eggs incubate for 11-14 days, and the length of the nestling phase varies from 14 to 28 or even 31 days! Thirty-one days is way longer than the nestling period for any other hummingbirds. That makes us wonder:

Challenge Question #13
"What reasons might explain the variation of 14-31 days in the Ruby-throat nestling phase?"

(To respond to this question, please follow the instructions below.)

Did Somebody Say McDonalds?

Mrs. Deborah Repasz in Friendswood, Texas may be helping YOUR hummers as they make their way back to the breeding grounds. She wrote to Journey North, saying: "My goal is to help the hummers migrate effectively to their nesting areas. I feel like McDonald's on the interstate in the spring, and a health resort in the fall for the migrants." (

Is YOUR hummer feeder up? Do you know what to put in it? Some of you asked for the "nectar" recipe for your feeders.

The best solution to fill your hummingbird feeder is a simple mixture of granulated sugar and boiled water, prepared according to the directions below. (CAUTION: NEVER use honey or artificial sweeteners! Honey spoils rapidly and can become poisonous. Artificial sweeteners provide no calories, so a hummer may drink it but receive no nutritional value and thus starve. Food coloring is not recommended either, as studies show it may be harmful to the birds. Also, change the "nectar" in your feeder and wash the feeder at least once a week to keep the nectar safe for the birds.)

Fill 'er Up! Sugar Water For Your Feeder
NOTE: The basic mixture is 1 part ordinary white granulated sugar to 4 parts water. Before mixing, it is important to first boil the water for several minutes to help keep the feeder sanitary and clean.
1. After boiling, measure the amount of water you need. (If you measure the water first, some water will boil away and mess up the proportions.)

2. After boiling and measuring the water, stir in the sugar while the water is still hot.

3. LET COOL before filling the feeder.

4. Store unused sugar water in the refrigerator. Remember! Any sugar water will spoil rapidly in warm weather or direct sunlight, so cleaning feeders frequently is very important to the health of the hummingbirds!

Learn MORE tips for welcoming and providing for your hummers, and put yourself on our map:

Try This!
List all the ways the hummingbird and monarch migrations are similar. List the ways they are different. Describe the timing and patterns you see, and explain their possible causes. What are the differences between these two animals? How might these differences cause their migrations to be different?

Sappy: Response to Challenge Question #8
Last time we asked, "How do ruby-throated hummingbirds survive when they arrive before any flowers are blooming?"

Students in 7B at Iselin Middle School, Iselin, NJ said:

"The ruby-throated hummingbirds survive when they arrive before the flowers are blooming by eating tree sap. This tree sap is much like nectar in the amount of sugar and amino acids it has."

Team B said: "They survive because they can live on tree sap so even before the flowers come they can still eat something until the flowers come."

Remember! The sapsucker is the "good partner" that makes it possible for hummingbirds to take advantage of tree sap as an important food source in the spring. Read all about it at:

Serve Up Some Help! Response to Challenge Question #9
We asked, "Because it's good to have your hummingbird feeder up one week before the hummers arrive, when should you put up YOUR feeder?" Several people reported their feeders up, and Team 7B from Iselin Middle School was right to say, "When they come back they will be very hungry and will need the food." (We hope their feeder is up!)

How to Respond to Today's Challenge Questions:
Please answer ONLY ONE question in EACH e-mail message.

1. Address an e-mail message to:
2. In the Subject Line of your message write: Challenge Question #11 (OR #12 OR #13).
3. In the body of EACH message, give your answer to ONE of the questions above.

The Next Hummingbird Migration Update Will Be Posted on May 11, 2000.

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