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Hummingbird Migration Update: March 25, 2004

Today's Report Includes:

Rufous Hummingbirds On the Move

Rufous Hummingbird

Migration Data

Courtesy of Mike Patterson,
Neawanna Wetland Ecological Observatory

Rufous Hummingbird
Migration Map

A week ago (March 18) brought more than 50 Rufous reports in a busy week for the birds. This week the reports began to come in from the foothills of the Cascades, and birds continued to move northward as well. What are they up to?

As soon as hummingbirds arrive, males establish their territories and females start nesting. If you watch your male hummingbirds closely, you may catch one in a really cool display flight. Mike Patterson did. He said, “Neal Maine and I did some close observations of a male and female courting at the Neawanna Banding Station.” See their observations and drawings of the flight patterns they saw. (Watch for more about this subject later in today’s report.)

In flower news, Mike reports Salmonberries in bloom everywhere, though the peak won't be for another couple of weeks. Twinberry is just beginning to show unopened flower heads and will probably begin to bloom next week. If you live in the West and see hummers, make sure you report them—and any flowers blooming--to Mike.

Rubythroats Advancing: a Journaling Question for You

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Migration Data

Courtesy of Lanny Chambers,

Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Migration Map

Just look at all the new sightings on this week’s map! Cold air up north dipped farther south last week than anticipated, bringing storms and strong northerly winds as the front swept across the nation. As a result, the first fallout of the season brought birdwatchers some welcome sights. To what latitude have the Rubythroats advanced on today’s map?

Try This! Journaling Question
Look at today’s ruby-throated hummingbird map and decide which of the birds probably came across the Gulf of Mexico? Which probably flew overland? Why do you think so?

Analyzing the Data: Challenge Question #5
The maps in this report are simply “snapshots in time,” captured from our MapServer. The MapServer is updated every few minutes with sightings as they’re reported. That means you can keep up to date with the migration every day! How can you better interpret the data? Print and post this page with tips to help you:

Watch the weather maps and the MapServer reports to see if you can answer:

Challenge Question #5:
“How far north (give a latitude) do you predict (1) Rufous and (2) Rubythroat hummingbirds will have traveled by our April 1 update? What states/provinces do you think hummingbirds will have reached by April 1?”

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

Do Rufous Hummingbirds really fly in an oval?

The Mating Game: Hummingbird Display Puzzler
Hummingbirds have unique wing bones and muscles, allowing them to fly straight up, straight down, backwards, and forwards. And their wings flap so very fast (up to 200 beats per second in a display!) that they make a buzzing sound. A territorial hummingbird flies in a pattern--usually a U or an oval--which it repeats over and over, wings buzzing to make the display even more noticeable.

If you checked Mike’s Courtship Behaviors at Neawanna Banding Station, you saw drawings of the flight patterns observed. The flight patterns of Rufous Hummingbirds raise many questions and few answers. One big question is, “Do Rufous Hummingbirds fly in an oval?” How do scientists find the answer to questions like this? What are the hypotheses? It’s not as easy as it may sound. Try an experiment of drawing from someone else’s description as you ponder this:

That's the excitement of science: working together, people are still finding the answers to many questions, and every time we get one answer, we think of more questions! We DO know the whole point of courtship is clear: to mate and have young. Read more below...

Photo Larry Gates

What’s a Good Terrritory? Challenge Question #6
Establishing territory is very serious business. Male hummingbirds usually arrive on the breeding grounds way ahead of the females ands start to establish their territories. Do hummer 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 this territory.

Challenge Question #6:
“What are at least two things that a male hummingbird looks for when he establishes a territory?”

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

Approximately how wide is this hummingbird nest?
Photo Dorothy Edgington

Nesting is A Big Job: Link to Lesson With Reading & Writing Connection
The hummingbirds that are already home are busy. You may not realize it, but nesting involves a LOT of critical steps. Do males share the responsibilities for nesting and raising babies? What’s the most important job that a male hummingbird does? How many times in one summer does a hummingbird lay eggs and raise babies? How many days does a mother hummingbird sit on the eggs before they hatch? How long before the babies leave the nest? How do the babies compare to their mother in weight when they leave the nest? You’ll find out here:

Reading Writing Selection

Reading and Writing Connections

Teacher Tip
Before you begin, introduce the phrase Nesting Phenology. Invite students to scan the subheadings in the reading selection: Territorial Defense, Nest Building, Egg Laying, Incubating Eggs, Brooding and Feeding Nestlings, and Taking Care of Fledglings. Ask students: Based on the headings, what do you think "Nesting Phenology" means? What will the focus of this reading selection be? What kinds of facts do you think will be revealed in this article? (Scanning the Text for Clues)

Besides this tip, teachers will find many more strategies to help students read, revisit, and reflect on this selection in the link to our Reading and Writing Connections, found at the top of
Ruby-throated Hummingbird Nesting Phenology.

Photo courtesy of Harlan and Altus Aschen.

Feeder Up?
Ms. Kelley’s class in Inglenook Elementary in Birmingham Alabama reported, “We put our feeder up yesterday (March 22) and saw our first male ruby-throated today (March 23).” How can you get ready to welcome your hummers? First, keep an eye on our MapServer to see when they’re getting close. Second, learn tips for providing for your hummers--and see how to put yourself on our map:

A River of Birds: Look and Listen
Each spring, roughly a billion birds migrate northward across the Gulf of Mexico, en route to breeding habitats from their wintering quarters in the tropics. Imagine being a bird, flying over hundreds of miles of water, without food or any place to rest. And imagine being there to watch as thousands and thousands of migrating birds fly over your head! From an offshore platform about 80 feet above the Gulf of Mexico, naturalist John Arvin didn’t have to imagine. He watched the passage of thousands upon thousands of songbirds one spring night. Read excerpts from his writings at dawn, after a whole night of watching the river of birds flooding toward shore:

If thousands or millions of other birds migrate over the Gulf on a single dark night, how do they keep from bumping into each other? You’ll find the answer in John’s story, and something to try in your own backyard.

Crossing the Gulf: Discussion of CQ #4
As you thought about where ruby-throats are coming from, we said, “The speed of a hummingbird in normal flight is about 25 mph. About how long will it take a hummingbird to fly non-stop across the Gulf of Mexico, a distance of 845 km (525 mi)?
The answer is 525 miles divided by 25 mph = 21 hours. Congratulations to all these students for sending the answer!

  • Ariel, Srirom, Chris D, Stephanie V from Iselin Middle School
  • Linda G.
  • Jessie and Kaitlin from from South O'Brien Middle School
  • Ryan at Challenger Middle School, Ms. Pfaff’s 7th grade class.
  • Julie from Mrs. Pfaff’s science class took it further and figured out: "If you multiply the number of hours it will take to cross the Gulf of Mexico by the number of minutes in an hour (60), you will get 1,260 minutes. If you multiply the number of minutes by the number of seconds there are in a minute (60), the answer you will get is 75,600 seconds to cross the Gulf of Mexico." WOW! Great going, Julie!

Lanny Chambers with students.

What's Your Question? Ask the Expert Now Open!
Is there something about Rufous or Ruby-throated hummingbirds you'd love to know? Lanny Chambers is our expert, and he's ready and willing to answer your questions. You haven until CDT on April 2nd to send them to us. Meet Lanny and see how to prepare your questions here:

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:
2. In the Subject Line of your message write: Challenge Question #5 (OR #6).
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 1* (Data Only).

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