Flowers are starting to bloom and hummingbirds are starting to return from their winter sojourns in the south, according to bird watchers and other bird enthusiasts.
An interactive map compiled by Hummingbird Central, an “online gathering place for hummingbird enthusiasts,” shows that hummingbird sightings have already been reported in the St. Louis area, including Hermann, New Haven and Pacific. No sightings have been reported in Washington, but Missouri Department of Conservation media specialist Dan Zarlenga said it’s likely the birds returned and simply weren’t reported to Hummingbird Central. .
“These maps you see online are all based on people reporting sightings. There is no magic sensor that detects the arrival of a hummingbird and instantly reports it to these online maps,” Zarlenga said. He said it’s likely the hummingbirds are in Washington or at least en route to the area.
“The other thing to remember is that it’s still a little early for hummingbirds (Missouri migration),” Zarlenga said, adding that unusually cooler temperatures in Missouri and elsewhere along the flyway could delay the arrival of hummingbirds.
“In the next few weeks people can expect to see a lot more,” Zarlenga said.
According to the Department of Conservation, thousands of hummingbirds will likely descend on the Show-Me State in the coming weeks.
Of the different hummingbird breeds, rubythroats are most commonly found in Missouri and much of the eastern United States. The Rufous Hummingbird normally breeds from the Rocky Mountains to the West Coast, according to the Department of Conservation. Rufous Hummingbirds can be spotted in Missouri as they will pass through the state in late summer or early winter en route to their breeding grounds in the southern United States.
Other hummingbirds recorded in Missouri include Anna’s hummingbird and the purple-eared green hummingbird.
If you’re looking to make hummingbirds feel at home in your garden this year, here’s what you need to know.
Why Hummingbirds Migrate North:
Hummingbirds migrate north for many reasons, but the most important reason is nesting and pollination of various plants.
“They respond to their instinct, which automatically detects that where they are, there are changes in the weather,” said Zarlenga.
While here, hummingbirds – which do not mate for life – will typically have two broods, or offspring, during the summer.
Hummingbirds, like bees, are important pollinators.
Due to their small size and long beaks, the Department of Conservation said hummingbirds can end up pollinating flowers and plants that otherwise would not be pollinated.
A hummingbird’s trip to Missouri isn’t all sunshine and roses, as the bird has many predators, including domestic and feral cats; large insects, such as a praying mantis and orb-weaver spiders; large snakes, lizards, frogs and other birds like owls, jays, ravens and ravens.
When to install feeders:
The Missouri Department of Conservation says the best time to install hummingbird feeders in Missouri is around April 25, when the majority of ruby-throated hummingbirds are expected to return to the state.
“If you post them too late, you may have missed your chance to get them for the year,” Zarlenga said. If the feeder is present when the hummingbirds arrive, the birds are much less likely to move.
Providing complete nutrition in your feeder is not essential, as the birds will balance their diet on their own by eating nectar found in flowers and other plants.
Department of Conservation officials say that to attract multiple hummingbirds, hobbyists and casual hummingbird enthusiasts should place multiple feeders in different areas of your garden.
“It makes their life much easier if they can find a reliable source of food,” Zarlenga said. “Just like humans, if they know they can find a free meal, they show up and they stay.”
Zarlenga recommends placing feeders in a partially covered area, such as near trees or bushes. A porch overhang is also a common location for hummingbird feeders.
“The porches give us good visibility so we can watch them, but that doesn’t really mean much to a hummingbird,” Zarlenga said. Instead, he said having a feeder near a tree or bush allows hummingbirds to take refuge if they need to flee from a predator.
“If you have a situation where you can easily see the feeder and it’s always near a tree or bush, then that’s best,” he said.
Learn more about ruby-throated hummingbirds:
The ruby-throated hummingbird, one of more than 330 hummingbird races to inhabit the Americas, is a small bird with a long, needle-like beak. These birds soar, fly back and forth with a buzz. Hummingbirds, which weigh less than a penny, are the only birds capable of flying backwards. The birds cannot walk or jump, as they only use their small feet to perch or to move laterally when perched.
Within this race, males are distinguished by their metallic green upperparts and a red throat that flashes ruby red in the light. Otherwise, male hummingbirds have white bellies with dull green sides, according to the Department of Conservation.
Female hummingbirds have similar coloring patterns but lack ruby red breasts.
Like other hummingbird breeds, ruby-throated hummingbirds have no sense of smell.
Although they cannot detect feeders, they have good color vision and will spot flowers or a hummingbird feeder from quite a distance away. Researchers say hummingbirds feed at feeders by flicking their tongues in and out about 13 times per second. They can consume up to twice their body weight in a day.
For your garden:
Before deciding which flowers should be added to your flower beds and outdoor flower pots, conservationists urge you to pick plants native to Missouri.
“Hummingbirds tend to be attracted to orange and reddish flowers,” Zarlenga said. The flowers provide hummingbirds with the nutrient-rich nectar that can supply up to 90% of their diet. The remaining 10% comes from backyard feeders. Department of Conservation officials recommend that feeders have bee and wasp guards, or plastic mesh covers that prevent insects from reaching the nectar.
Ruby-throated hummingbirds—the predominant species in Missouri—especially like red or orange tubular flowers, such as those found on a trumpet vine, native honeysuckle, and red buckeye. MDC officials have also recommended these plants to make your garden a haven for hummingbirds: cardinal flower; jewelreed, also known as touch-me-not; royal campion, fire rose, wild bergamot and columbine.
Zarlenga encourages gardeners to plant native plants because they will not only help hummingbirds, but also other pollinators like bees and butterflies. Additional information about Missouri’s native flowers is available online at mdc.mo.gov.
A nectar supplement recipe includes a mixture of sugar and water – four parts water to one part sugar. Because most hummingbird feeders are red, the conservation service says there’s no need to add red food coloring to the nectar.
“The idea was, once upon a time, you had to have a red liquid, because hummingbirds are attracted to the color red. We now know that it’s an unnecessary step to introduce that extra dye and coloring because a lot of feeders are already red,” said Zarlenga. Artificial sweeteners and honeys should never be used in hummingbird nectar because they can cause the growth of a dangerous fungus that, if ingested by hummingbirds, can “would attack the tongue of the birds”.
Officials also recommend washing feeders thoroughly with soap and water between uses to reduce the growth of bacteria, which can make hummingbirds sick.
When to disassemble feeders:
Hummingbird feeding is most successful in late summer and early fall, according to hummingbird enthusiasts.
Some people worry that feeding hummingbirds in the fall will delay their departure and expose them to frost, but Zarlenga said there’s no evidence that feeding slows their migration.
“They won’t stay in the winter if you have a feeder,” Zarlenga said. “It also won’t hurt to motivate them for their migration if you stop your feeder in mid-October.”
The Department of Conservation says that by Oct. 10, most rubythroats will be gone from the state and that’s “a good time to bring the feeders in and clean them out for winter storage.”
Where they go when they leave:
Rubythroat hummingbirds will likely leave Missouri in October and head south to Mexico and Costa Rica for the winter, according to researchers from the Audobon Society.
Recent research indicates that hummingbirds hang around the Gulf Coast region longer than normal, which researchers say is likely a sign that they need to recover from their journey across the United States before crossing over. the Gulf of Mexico.
Hummingbirds, which travel largely alone, can travel up to 500 miles a day.