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Hummingbird Migration Update: February 26, 2004

Today's Report Includes:

Rufous Hummingbirds Heading Up the Coast
A week ago, any Rufous sightings were likely in the "over-winter birds moving around" category, says Mike Patterson. Now that's starting to change! Today's map has a few more data points as Mike reports a pulse of Rufous Hummingbirds through southern California and one report from coastal Oregon. Mike says, "If the nice weather continues, reports should start picking up." Migration is underway!

Rufous Hummingbird

Courtesy of Mike Patterson
Neawanna Wetland Ecological Observatory

Mike's research project tracks the movement of hummingbirds and the availability of flowers that provide nectar. (Nectar from flowers provides essential food for hummingbirds.) In flower news this week, the very first frost-bitten Salmonberry blooms were seen at monitoring sites. Willow is well along in blooming, and so is the manzanita along the south coast of Oregon. If you live in the West and see hummers, make sure you report them to Mike. Let Mike know if any flowers are blooming, too!

First Ruby-throat Report!
Both last year AND this year, the first Ruby-throated Hummingbird reported to Lanny Chambers was sighted on February 25. They're coming! What kind of weather greeted the season's first Ruby-throat arrival in Shalimar, FL? Get set for more Ruby-throat news in our next report. But until then, think about that early Florida arrival as well as the Rufous hummers up in chilly Oregon. If nights are still cold, how do they survive?

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Courtesy of Lanny Chambers,

Photo of immature male Rufous Hummingbird by Bill Hilton, Jr.

Hummingbird Survival: Challenge Question #3
Imagine being the tiniest of all warm-blooded animals. Your entire body weighs less than two dimes. Some insects and worms weigh more than you! When the air is cool, you must shiver or fly about to keep your body temperature up, and shivering or flying requires a LOT of energy. From the time you awake in the morning until you sleep at night, you are almost constantly doing one of three things: eating high-energy food, quietly perching while you digest your food, or searching for new sources of food. Imagine the challenges hummingbirds face every day in order to stay alive, and especially those early arrivals who come when temps are still cold. Read about a terrific survival adaptation here:

You'll also find tips that will help you with this week's challenge question, so send us your answers to...

Challenge Question #3:
"If you burned energy at the same rate as a hummingbird, how much of your favorite food (by weight) would you need to eat per day? Assuming you are awake 16 hours each day, how much food would you need to eat per hour?"

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

Feb. 25, 2003 map, one year ago:
Mike Patterson

You're the Scientist: Link to Lesson
How is this spring's Rufous hummingbird migration different from last year's? Here's the Rufous migration map for this same week LAST year, and this important fact: In the West, winter 2003 was milder, with temperatures averaging 4-5 degrees F. higher than the previous two years for January. Last year people kept telling Mike Patterson that the hummingbirds were early. Mike wondered: How early? Using data collected over the last three seasons, he compared the previous earliest records to those received in 2003. Think like a scientist as you work with Mike's data to make some discoveries. Find Mike's data and questions here:

Why can Rufous hummingbirds start migrating so much earlier than Ruby-throats?

Timing is Everything: Discussion of Challenge Question #1
"Compare the range maps. Which hummer species has to cross a large body of water on its journey north? How would this help explain why Rufous hummingbirds start migrating so much earlier than Ruby-throats?"

Aidan, along with Kari and Jessie in Mrs. Erdmann's 5th grade TAG class at South O'Brien Middle School were among students who correctly answered that Ruby- throated hummers have to fly over the Gulf of Mexico. Mallika, a 4th grader at Harrington School in Lexington MA, pointed out that Rufous hummers fly over a land mass, while Ruby-throats have to fly over a stretch of water without stopping. This has more to do with the reason why Rufous hummingbirds migrate so much earlier than Ruby-throats. The map reminds us that Rufous is a western species, and starts its migration from Mexico up the West Coast. Because it doesn't have to cross a large body of water, a rufous can fly small distances at a time. Unlike Ruby-throats, many of which cross the Gulf of Mexico to get to the eastern states, Rufous hummmingbirds can leave as early as weather conditions permit. The ocean keeps temperatures more moderate along the Rufous's Pacific coast migration route than in inland areas, and early Rufous hummers aren't as likely to face dangerous low temperatures as Ruby-throated hummingbirds would in the East. Also, flowers and insects to feed the hummingbirds are available earlier on the milder West Coast.

Why Come Back? Discussion of CQ #2
"If things are so good "down south," why don't hummers stay there all year?"

Jeremy and Anthony R. from Iselin Middle School/grade 7 pointed out that the warm tropics are good for wintering and building energy but the birds return north for lots of flowers and good nesting places for breeding. Chris, Sriram, Ariel, Stephanie V. and Kevin thought about the amount of food necessary to feed the whole population. Jessie from South O'Brien Middle School talked about the temperatures. And one person put crowding and space and food supply all together in this answer: "Hummingbirds migrate back north because of land mass and geography. There is more land mass and places for nesting and spreading out in North America, in the U.S. and Canada, than in Central America or Mexico. More land also gives them more possible breeding sites."

Hooray! In spring an enormous breeding range opens up after being freezing cold and covered with snow all winter. This offers hummers and other birds PLENTY of space and food for themselves and their young, without much competition, all through the summer. When the weather turns cold and their food sources diminish, the tropics will be a welcome refuge again.

How to Respond to Today's Challenge Questions:

IMPORTANT: Answer only ONE question in each e-mail message.

1. Address an e-mail message to:
In the Subject Line of your message write: Challenge Question #3.
3. In the body of EACH message, give your answer to the question above.

The Next Hummingbird Migration Update Will Be Posted on March 4* , 2004.
(*Data Only)

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