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Hummingbird Migration Update: April 8, 2004

Today's Report Includes:

First Rufous Hummingbirds Reach Alaska

Rufous Hummingbird

Courtesy of Mike Patterson,
Neawanna Wetland Ecological Observatory

Rufous Hummingbird
Migration Map

What a stretch north for Rufous hummingbirds on this week’s map! Since our last full report, they arrived in Alaska and the first east side birds arrived in Sisters, OR and White Lake, BC (moving inland and east of the Cascades). Reports to Mike Patterson were full of excitement and curiosity:

  • “We just had our first reports of Rufous Hummingbirds in Ketchikan, Alaska, today, 30 March. Two different males at two different feeders. Since 1990, our earliest arrival dates at Ketchikan have been: 21 Mar 2003, 23 Mar 1995, 28 Mar 1996, 29 Mar 1997 and 29 Mar 2000. The latest arrival date was 11 Apr 2002.” (Steve Heinl) AND. . .
  • “A very aggressive and hungry male Rufous hummer is looking all over for his feeders. They're going up now!” wrote Julie Clark from 17 miles south of Lewiston, Idaho. Mike Patterson said Julie’s sighting is eight days earlier than any record he has for Idaho!

If YOU see a Rufous Hummingbird in the West, make sure you report it to Mike Patterson. And if you see hummers, make sure you let him know if any flowers are blooming, too!

Has this week’s weather helped? On April 5th, winds started shifting from the south, which allowed some migrants in the West (including Rufous hummingbirds) to make it farther north. The south winds have started pushing some of the early migrants (including Ruby-throated hummingbirds) up to the mid-Atlantic and New England this week as well. So, what’s the Rubythroat news?

Rubythroats Moving Steadily North

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Courtesy of Lanny Chambers,

Ruby-throated Hummingbird
Migration Map

Photo courtesy of Harlan and Altus Aschen.

It’s been a busy time for these pennyweight powerhouses, as you can see from this week’s snaphot map, which links to our continuously-updated MapServer. They’ve now pushed way into Indiana and Illinois. An observer from Huntsville, Alabama reported:

“Put out the first feeder on March 17 and a second window-mounted feeder on April 1. The first Rubythroat male was observed at feeder #1 this afternoon (April 4) at 1:40. This was exciting for me, because this is my earliest observation, and I've been keeping track since 1990!”

Wow! Do other data suggest early arrivals?

Digging Into Data: Challenge Question #7
Scientists can learn a lot from faithful records kept by citizen observers over many years. For example, two things they can calculate are:
Range - The difference between the earliest date and latest date in a set of data.
Median - The 50th percentile. The date in an ordered set of data where half of the dates are earlier and half of the dates are later. Half the values are larger than the median, and half are lower. With an even number of data values, the median is defined as the average of the two middle values.

Now it’s your turn to be the scientist. Today we share 10 years of data sent by Lanny Chambers, our Ruby-throated hummingbird expert. Lanny has yet to see his first hummer of 2004, but you might be curious: When did Lanny’s all-time earliest hummer arrive? His latest? What was the range of dates for hummer arrivals? What was the median date? Find Lanny’s data here:

Challenge Question #7:
“What is the range and what is the median of Lanny Chambers’s first arrival dates for Ruby-throated hummingbirds in St. Louis? When do you think Lanny’s first hummer will arrive in 2004?”

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

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

Why Such an Early Rufous in Idaho? Two-Way Talk and Teacher Tip
Stacy Jon Peterson of Trochilids Website: Winter Hummingbirds, pointed out that the West Coast Rufous have barely made it over the Cascade Mountains. This makes it seem very unlikely that Julie's bird near Lewiston, Idaho came from that direction. Where, then, might it have come from? Mike Patterson and Stacy had a very interesting exchange of email messages as they pondered this question. We invite you to read their conversation and see what questions it answers—-and raises—-for you!

Reading Writing Selection

Reading and Writing Connections

Teacher Tip:
Invite students to “mark up the text” as they read a selection by circling unfamiliar words, highlighting/underlining key ideas, and writing notes and questions. Margin notes made by readers include: questions, predictions, connections, key ideas, and discoveries. Encourages students to create their own Comprehension Codes for types of responses, such as “PCs” for personal connections or “D” for discoveries
This tip is from Journey North’s Reading and Writing Connections, which utilize research-based instructional strategies to help students develop essential skills as they delve deeply into their understanding of the world through texts with real people, events, and issues. For more:

Nest Building Underway! Link to Lesson
Rufous Hummingbird females are well known for not wasting any time getting to work on nests upon arrival at suitable nest sites, Mike Patterson reminded us when he sent this Rufous observer’s comments: “Ann from Saanich, BC, Canada saw her first hummingbird on Monday and by Tuesday she was watching it build a nest about 50 feet up a Douglas fir tree. It was using fluff from some bulrush left out specifically for such purposes, as well as spider webs and bits of lichen.”

Photos Courtesy Dorothy Edgington.

For a hummingbird to keep her babies alive until they fledge, her nest must serve all of the following purposes:

  1. Insulation to hold the mother's heat tightly against the eggs, and to keep rain and cold air from leaking in.
  2. A strong bed for the mother to spend all her time while she's incubating the eggs.
  3. A stretchable crib big enough to hold two nestlings that are growing as big as their mother.
  4. A soft baby blanket to rest on without any sharp points that could puncture or crack an egg.
  5. A camouflaged hideout that is difficult for predators to find.

Have a scavenger hunt around your school to gather all the real materials a hummingbird would need to construct a nest that can serve all the nest purposes listed above. A real hummer nest would be walnut-sized, but can you fashion these materials into a nest that looks like a real hummingbird nest but holds two chicken eggs? Can you find any suitable places where you think a real hummingbird might build her nest if she lived by your school? Find your nest-building list and blueprints here:

Is this a hummingbird? How can you tell?

Mystery Animal Video Challenge
Sometimes people think they are seeing a hummingbird when they’re actually seeing a certain look-alike. True, this mystery look-alike and hummingbirds share many similarities. But many visible clues also tell you that the mystery animal can't be a hummingbird. Take the video challenge yourself and make some discoveries!

On the Radar: Migrants are Coming!
On April 5, John Idzikowski, Milwaukee posted a hotline report: “There is a major movement tonight of neotropicals over Brownsville, TX and a big swarm that left Cuba about 2.5 hours ago. Brownsville is nowhere near its peak, which will begin in about 10 days. We are having our second-biggest night so far this spring (3/27 was the biggest), with the Mississippi River Valley showing the best concentrations on southerly winds on the backside of the last high; the peak detection colors correspond to concentrations of 600-800 birds per cubic kilometer.”

To learn how to use NEXRAD maps to interpret bird migration in your area, see
Clemson University's Tutorial.

Find Brownsville, Texas on a map. Do you think some of the migrants were the hummingbirds soon reported to Lanny Chambers or Journey North? What did John mean by neotropicals? What other questions does John’s report raise for you? How could you gain information for your questions? Write them in your science journal, along with what you discover for answers.

Feeder Up?
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:

How Far North? Discussion of 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?”

If you checked Journey North’s MapServer and the data entries (owl button) up until April 1, you might have seen these results:

According to all reports RECEIVED by April 1, Rufous hummingbirds reached Ketchikan, AK, at 55.34N. They had arrived in all these states or provinces: MS, AZ, TX, CA, OR, WA, BC, and AK.

According to all reports entered by April 1, Ruby-throated hummingbirds reached 38.90 N, reported 3/29 at Vienna, VA. They had reached VA, VA, and MO, besides TN, FL, LA, AR, AL, OK, SC, MS, GA, NC, and TX. They had actually already reached into IN, IL and KY, but those sightings weren’t reported until AFTER April 1.
(Of all the sightings reported, notice how many occurred earlier but were not reported promptly. How might these reporting delays affect our weekly interpretations?)

Congratulations to Team members Jessie, Kaitlin, and Kari from South O'Brien Middle School, for their prediction: "We predict the Rubythroats will be at 37 degrees latitude and the Rufous will be at 56 degrees latitude. The states they've reached are Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Kansas."

Julie from Ms.Pfaff's 7th Grade Science Class at Challenger Middle School in San Diego, CA answered another way, after much analysis and calculation. By consulting a range map and considering the weather, Julie might adjust her prediction a bit, and here it is: “Right now, the Rufous hummingbirds are between about 50 degrees north latitude and 30 degrees north latitude. A hummingbird can fly around 25 miles per hour. Assuming that the hummingbird flies for 10 hours a day, we can estimate how many miles the hummingbird will travel. 25 miles per hour multiplied by 10 is 250. That means that a hummingbird will travel about 250 miles a day. Assume that today is March 25. March 25 to April 1 is a week. If a hummingbird flies north for about 250 miles a day for 7 days, it would probably fly north for 1,750 miles. I predict that would put the Rufous Hummingbirds somewhere near 70 degrees north latitude and 45 degrees north latitude by April 1. The Rufous Hummingbirds would be in the Canadian provinces of the Yukon Territory, Northwest Territories, British Columbia, Alberta and maybe even Saskatchewan. We can use the same procedure for the Rubythroat hummingbirds. They are currently between 25 and 35 degrees north latitude. If they fly north for 1,750 miles, they will end up between 40 and 60 degrees north latitude by April 1. The Rubythroat hummingbirds will end up in the Canadian provinces of Ontario, Quebec and maybe New Brunswick. Both of the hummingbird species may not fly the whole estimated length of 1750 miles in the past week because they might have decided to settle in an area.”

Thank you, students, for “noodling through” a tough question and sharing your predictions!

What’s a Good Territory? Discussion of Challenge Question #6
“What are at least two things that a male hummingbird looks for when he establishes a territory?”
“The hummingbird would be looking for an area that was safe from predators or at least have a good place to be able to see danger coming. He also needs to find a spot that would have good food available,” answered Alex, Daisy , Forrest, and Ariana from Grade Four, Ferrisburgh (VT) Central School.

“The males look for flowers and perches,” wrote Aidan D.

Besides ample food resources, Adam from Ms. Pfaff's class at Challenger Middle School pointed out that "good nesting spots are also very important because it may insure the well-being of the babies and it may also, possibly, attract a mate."

Teammates Kari, Jessie, and Kaitlin said, "Male hummingbirds look for a place where hummers already are.” They thought perhaps hummers looked for a nest where other hummingbirds have already lived. Do they? See what you can learn about that by again visiting “Nest Building” on this page, or other sources:

How to Respond to Today's Challenge Question:

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 #7.
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 15*, 2004. (Migration Data Only.)

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