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For the Birds: Hummingbirds are back

April 15, 2019

I love the springtime! The variety of birds coming to and through our area in the next six weeks or so is more than any other time of year. Amongst reports of flocks of Cedar Waxwings, Evening Grosbeaks, a few Townsend’s Solitaires and much more, we have the return of the hummingbird! Yes, they’re back. Broad-tailed hummingbirds, with their rosy throats, come first, but the black-chinned Hummingbirds are not far behind. We are in the nesting range of both species. Of course, some that we see right now will head further north, but some will decide to nest in our neck of the woods.

Sometimes folks think they are seeing a rufous hummingbird this time of year. They’re probably not. The rufous is the aggressive, bossy, orangish hummer and it won’t be around till mid-summer when it begins heading south from its nesting grounds in the Pacific Northwest and beyond. They are moving north through California right now, but they’ll come south along the Rockies, and through New Mexico, starting in July. So, broad-tailed and black-chinned are the hummingbirds to look for now.

We had our first report of a broad-tailed hummingbird on March 27. I know this sounds early, but it’s not. Each year we get a few calls during the last few days of March. Migration can be a funny thing. Hummingbirds don’t all show up on the same day. They trickle in or through until they hit a critical mass, when just about everyone has seen or heard a hummingbird. That’s usually about now, mid-April. Put out your feeders where you can see them easily, keep the sugar water fresh (change it twice a week) and watch. They will come. Sugar water should be clear, without any red dye. Mix 4 parts boiled water to one part plain white table sugar. I make a big batch and keep it in the fridge for easy future filling. It’s usually good in the fridge for a couple of weeks.

I like red-colored, saucer-styled hummingbird feeders with the drinking ports on top. They don’t drip, and the bees don’t seem to like them, but the hummingbirds do. They are also very easy to clean, which makes me happy.

A few reasons hummingbirds are the coolest birds in the world:

• They can fly backwards.

• Hummers do not sing but will chatter or buzz to communicate.

• They can fly up to 45 miles per hour.

• On cold nights, hummingbirds enter torpor, a slowed metabolic state, to preserve energy.

• Their wings beat up to 78 times per second.

• Although they eat nectar from flowers and feeders, they eat many tiny insects for protein.

• Even when they rest, they take 250 breaths per minute.

• Their heart pumps an incredible 1,260 beats per minute.

• It takes about 5 average hummingbirds to equal the weight of a chickadee.

• There are over 300 species of hummingbirds in North and South America. They are found only in the Western Hemisphere. Only about 16 species enter the United States.

• They are very easy to attract to feeders and flowers.

Anne Schmauss is the co-owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Santa Fe and she loves to hear your bird stories. She is the author of For the Birds: A Month by Month Guide to Attracting Birds to Your Backyard.