Friday, August 9, 2013

The Hummingbird Migration on the Alabama Gulf Coast

Along the Gulf Coast of Alabama, bird watchers are looking forward to spring and the seasonal arrival of the hummingbird migration to our area. The Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, and Fort Morgan area is a stop-over point for eleven different species of hummingbirds.

Hummingbirds reach the southern coast in late February and early March. Arrival time usually coincides with the food plants blooming. Hummingbirds depart with the end of the blooming season. Fall migration is from late July until late October in the South.

Male Broad Tail Hummingbird

One of the species that is often spotted here is the Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Archilochus colubris. It is identified by its emerald green back. The male is known by its ruby red throat and forked tail. The slightly larger female is white breasted with a white tipped rounded tail. Females are up to 25% larger than the males, which in a small bird make a huge difference.

Despite its tiny size, the Ruby has been seen chasing off birds much bigger than itself such as blue jays, crows, and hawks.

Hummingbirds migrate South in late Summer-Fall to follow food sources which die out with the cold in the North. During the hummingbird migration, the birds must fly hundreds of miles across the Gulf of Mexico to the Yucatan Peninsula for the winter.

Why birds migrate--

New research shows food scarcity motivates birds to migrate each year.

Hummingbirds use the Earth’s magnetic field to stay on course during migration. From a bird’s eye view- birds are attuned to wavelengths of light outside the visible range that humans see. A recent study suggests birds have the ability to “see” the planet's magnetic lines as patterns of light or color to navigate their surroundings.

Stocking up for the trip--

To stock up for the hummingbird migration, hummers go into a feeding frenzy to pack on a few extra grams. By eating more small insects and nectar than usual, they are able to nearly double its weight.

How you can help--

Hummingbirds need nectar to put on the fat necessary for their incredible journey ahead. You can help by putting out hummingbird feeders and planting flowering trees in your garden to attract these fascinating birds. A patch of trumpet-creeper vine is like a calling card to hummers. Although considered a nuisance plant to some gardeners, its thousands of nectar filled orange flowers are a natural food source for hummingbirds. Hummingbirds are attracted to the color red, which is why you will see most feeders colored red. Water sprinklers also draw in these tiniest of migrating birds.

Hummingbird food mixture--

Mix a nectar solution of 4 cups of water to 1 cup of sugar. Boil and cool. Do not use artificial sweeteners or honey. It can be refrigerated.

During hot weather, rinse out the feeder and add fresh food every few days.

Migrating hummers, as bird watchers call them, do not wear out their welcome and will move on in a few days but they do recall a favorite rest stop and will return next year for more Southern hospitality.

We are lucky to live in the flight path of these entertaining adventurous birds. To witness firsthand the hummingbird migration is one of nature’s amazing wonders you should not miss.

During the migratory seasons, hummingbirds are likely to show up anywhere, but the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge is a special place to view these tiny creatures, along with over 370 other bird species.

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