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Hummingbird Migration Update: April 12, 2001

Today's Report Includes:

Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds Surge Northward!

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Courtesy of Lanny Chambers,

Ruby-throated Hummingbirds rushed north this past week! They haven't reached the northernmost states or much of Canada yet, but they're expected within the next week or two. April 4, 5, and 6 were big days to move, and here's what we've seen in the past four weeks:


# of Sightings

Before Mar 15


Mar 15 - Mar 29


Mar 30 - Apr 5


Apr 6 - Apr 12


But the REAL difference is where the hummers ARE. See it on the map!

Rufous Hummers Reach Alaska!

Rufous Hummingbird

Courtesy of Mike Patterson
Neawanna Wetland Ecological Observatory

When will the first Rufous Hummingbirds arrive in Alaska? They already have! The first date a Rufous Hummingbird was reported in Ketchikan, Alaska, was April 1, 2001. And Mike Patterson told Journey North on April 12 that he had just received word that Rufous Hummingbirds were seen in Juneau as of April 8, 2001, commenting that this is pretty much on time.

Rufous Hummingbird migration is tricky to understand, and Mike Patterson's project at the Neawanna Wetland Ecological Observatory is designed to discover whether these tiny but hardy creatures really do migrate in response to the availability of certain flowers, or whether there are other factors involved. Learn more about his study at the Hummingbirds and Flowers page.

The map data points for this week show the Ketchikan, AK, hummer report, but don't show any reports at all between southern British Columbia and Ketchikan. Do you think this is because no Rufous Hummingbirds appeared anywhere between Squamish, BC and Ketchikan, AK last week? Or is it more likely that no one living in that long stretch has reported their sightings to the Hummingbird Project? Peak migratory movements normally take place between the last week of March and the first week of April, though the Alaska report is the only new report for the week of April 1-8. If YOU see a Rufous Hummingbird, make sure to report it!

A Partnership That Works
The tiny holes drilled by this Yellow-bellied Sapsucker are an important source of sweet fluid for Ruby-throated Hummingbirds in early spring.
Photo courtesy of
Ann Cook.
In the year when ice-out on Walden Pond is the latest on record, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds can't count on balmy weather yet, nor good supplies of flower nectar. When it's cold and few flowers are blooming, what are they eating? Fortunately, they arrive on the heels of an earlier migrant that ensures them a nutritious food supply. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have been seen actually following sapsuckers as these woodpeckers visit their sap trees. One migrating sapsucker drilled 286 tiny holes in a pine tree in 9-1/2 hours one April day, providing a bounty of food for itself--and for other birds like hummers. Hummingbirds get an obvious food benefit from yellow-bellied sapsuckers, but sapsuckers may also get help from the hummers. What kind of help? Read about it here:

Then come back and answer:

Challenge Question #16:
"In what way are hummingbirds helpful partners to sapsuckers?"

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

Egg-to-Fledgling Countdown
Last time we ended our photo safari with the babies at five days old in Dorothy's maple tree. Today we continue the adventure up to 11 days of age when they're stuffing the nest to the max. Please remember to click on each photo for facts and details to help you answer the Countdown Challenge Questions. (NOTE: When you click on each photo, you'll also see some comments and the question.) Here are this week's photos and questions:

Day 6: Wrinkled Skin

Day 7: Pinfeathers

Day 8: Beak To Beak

Day 9: Little By Little

Day 10A: Wake Up!

Day 10B: Call Me Beaky


  Photos courtesy of Dorothy Edgington.


 Day 11: Still Growing?


Challenge Question #17:
"Why do you think the babies' skin is so wrinkled?"

Challenge Question #18:

"Can you name two things that have changed about the babies' beaks since they hatched?"

Challenge Question #19:

"What things can you find in your classroom or home that are about the size of this hummingbird nest?"

Challenge Question #20:
"What will happen to the nest if the babies keep growing?"

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

Home Tweet Home!
Wow! Just looking at these hummer nest photos makes you wonder how these tiny birds build nests to fit their needs. For a hummingbird to keep her babies alive until they fledge, her nest must provide insulation to hold the mother's heat tightly against the eggs, and to keep rain and cold air from leaking in. It must be a strong bed for the mother to spend all her time while she's incubating the eggs. It must be a stretchable crib big enough to hold two nestlings that are quickly growing as big as their mother. It must be a soft baby blanket to rest on without any sharp points that could puncture or crack an egg. And it must provide a camouflaged hideout that predators can't easily find. Here's an activity that challenges you to find and use materials to build a hummingbird nest that can serve all these purposes. (You'll be glad to know that the nest YOU build can be big enough to hold two chicken eggs!) For nest-building directions, tips on how a hummer chooses a good nest site, and more, see:

Try This!
Have a scavenger hunt around your school to gather all the REAL materials a hummingbird would need to construct a nest. Can you fashion these materials into a walnut-sized nest that looks like a real hummingbird nest? Can you find any suitable places where you think a real hummingbird might build her nest if she lived by your school?

Rufous Hummingbirds Heading Uphill: Discussion of Challenge Question #8
Last time we asked,"Why do you think Rufous hummingbirds arrive so much later in the Coast Range and foothills of the Cascades than they do in the Willamette Valley?"
The Coast Range and Cascades are mountainous areas, and at higher elevations the temperatures are colder. (In fact, for every 100 m in elevation, the temperature drops 1 degree C. For every 250 feet, it drops 1 degree F.) Not only do hummingbirds prefer warmer temperatures, but plant development is slower at cold temperatures, too. This means the hummingbird habitat is ready earlier in the Willamette Valley than it is at higher elevations.

Discussion of Challenge Question #9 Through #14
Because we're asking so many challenge questions in connection with the Countdown photos, we are placing the responses to those questions on their very own Web page. Then you can refer to them whenever you are ready to discuss the answers. Here's where you'll find the discussion of Countdown Challenge Questions #9 through #14 from our March 29 report:

Rufous Hummer Homework: Discussion of Challenge Question #15
Rufous Hummingbird. Copyright 1999, Larry and Terrie Gates

When an observer had this question, we passed it on to you, together with some research tips: "When do you think Denise should look for Rufous Hummingbirds in Las Vegas? Which other hummingbirds might she find there in spring?"
Journey North got a very complete answer from Carolyn Titus, who compiled the official bird list for the Red Rock Audubon Society. Carolyn says there are eight different hummers that have been recorded in southern Nevada:

  • Broad-billed is an "accidental" with only three reports from that part of the state ever.
  • Magnificent is also an accidental, with one southern Nevada record from the Spring Mountains
  • Black-chinned is a common summer resident, which is common or even abundant in the city of Las Vegas.
  • Anna's is another resident, but much less common than Black-chinned. This species is a recent (since the 1970's) colonizer from the Pacific Coast, now well established. It winters in the valley and was documented nesting in Las Vegas this year. This species is an early nester and may be fledging young already! It also nests in the Spring Mountains northwest of town in the summer.
  • Costa's is mostly a summer resident although a few seem to winter at lower elevation at Lake Mead. It's common but not as numerous or widespread as the Black-chinned; prefers desert habits to the city
  • Calliope is a rare migrant through southern Nevada, nesting in the northern part of the state
  • Broad-tailed is a common summer resident in the Spring Mountains; migrates through the valley spring and fall
  • And our good old Rufous Hummingbird is a common to uncommon migrant in the Las Vegas area, with more reports from fall than spring
  • Allen's: Carolyn Titus assigned rare migrant status to this species on the Red Rock Audubon Society checklist but it borders on being accidental. It is very difficult to distinguish this species from Rufous Hummingbirds, so it's difficult to be certain which species is which in some records.

J. R. Alcorn's "The Birds of Nevada" is a good source of information on
Nevada's birds up through 1988 when it was published.

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 #16 (or #17 or #18 or #19 or #20).
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 April 26, 2001.

Copyright 2001 Journey North. All Rights Reserved. Please send all questions, comments, and suggestions to our feedback form

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