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Hummingbird Migration Update: April 25, 2002

Today's Report Includes:

Rubythroats: Slow but Steady Wins the Race
A week ago, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds had reached the northern tier of states and crossed into southeastern Canada. In the past two weeks, rubythroats have surged forward. They are farther north, both in the Great Lakes area and in the Northeast, than they were last year at this time, though last year there had been MORE northerly sightings by now. Do you think the earlier very hot, and then recent very cold and rainy (and also snowy) weather affected their migration?

This week's reports add 264 sightingsto the map as the northern tier of states fills out. A hummer observer in Ontario wrote on April 23 when his first rubythroat arrived at the feeders: "Heads up, the hummer wars begin!"

And of all the new hummer sightings, we are happy to report that one of the Missouri sightings came from Lanny Chambers! Lanny's first hummer of 2002 showed up April 17. (See Lanny's historic records collected since 1994.)

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Courtesy of Lanny Chambers,

Rufous Hummingbirds Moving Up and In!

Rufous Hummingbird, Larry & Terrie Gates 1999

Last week the first Rufous Hummingbirds were reported in Alaska at Ketchikan, according to Mike Patterson of Neawanna Wetland Ecological Observatory. This week, Mike says that the first Rufous hummers continue their movement into Alaska with multiple reports around Juneau. A report from Boise, ID is the most easterly sighting received so far. It's about a week earlier than expected. Mike noted that the sightings on April 15 in Alaska were interesting. Usually, the number is low when first sightings occur at a new latitude, but these occurred in a cluster. " A cluster of first detections could mean that the migration front has been bunched up, possibly because of the weather," said Mike, "and birds from the peak caught up with the leading edge birds arriving (more or less) together. Of course, it's also possible that the folks in Alaska were paying extra close attention because they're excited about the arrival of hummingbirds, but the number of observers who report from Alaska is still much lower than the number of observers Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. Given the observer density in Alaska and the lateness of this year's first detections, I think the first detection cluster is significant and the migration front most probably got bunched up by the weather."

Rufous Hummingbird

Courtesy of Mike Patterson
Neawanna Wetland Ecological Observatory

Mike also reports a Rufous Hummingbird on eggs from Mt Vernon, Washington. "The bird is using a nest built last year.What makes this especially noteworthy is that the nest was built in a barn on a loop of chain." (Rufous Hummingbirds don't usually build nests on or in human-made structures.) Check out these photos of last year's nestlings at this nest on Mike Patterson's site. Thanks, Mike!

Is it the Flowers, or the Weather?
Mike Patterson is researching the connection between blooming flowers and Rufous Hummingbird migration and nesting. He writes, "In flower news, the Rufous reported in Boise was feeding on Golden Currant. Salmonberry flower density is peaking in canopied areas at Astoria while plants in open areas are nearly finished blooming. Black Twinberry is also in full bloom in many areas." To learn more about Mike's research, see his webpage:

Then answer:

Challenge Question #11:
"Which do you think is more directly tied to Rufous Hummingbird migration: blooming flowers or weather? Explain your answer."

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

Get Those Hummer Feeders Out!
Photo courtesy of Harlan and Altus Aschen.
The very morning that Sylvia Braber set out her feeder in Burkesville, Kentucky, a male ruby throated hummingbird arrived. Coincidence? Possibly. But as hummers migrate through an area, they specifically notice things that are the color red, and are drawn to feeders. Without a feeder, sometimes they'll pass you by, and you'll never even know they passed right over your yard!

Make sure to use one quarter cup of sugar per cup of water (dissolve the sugar in the boiling water, and let it cool before adding to your clean feeder). Please don't use food coloring, which has no nutritive value at all and may be harmful. The red parts on your feeder are bright enough to attract hummers. To learn more about feeding hummingbirds, see

Advertising in the Sky: Hummingbird Flight Displays
Every hummingbird owes its existence to its parents coming together to mate and then defending a territory to make sure they'd have enough resources to feed the hummer while it was a nestling and dependent fledgling. Most songbirds attract mates with song and plumage, but hummers do it by dancing in the sky! Their loud wingbeats and dramatic flight patterns are very noticeable, both for other hummingbirds and for humans. What do they do, and how do they do it? Then play a game as you figure the size of a hummingbird's territory. It's all here:

Then come back and send us your answer to:

Challenge Question #12:
"Why are hummingbird flight patterns usually shaped like an O or a U rather than any other letter?

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

Not Quite the One And Only: Discussion of Challenge Question #8
If you see a hummer in the eastern half of North America during spring and early summer, it is almost definitely a ruby-throat, but once in a great while a hummer from the west or the tropics finds its way here. The Ruby-throated Hummingbird IS the only species known to breed in the eastern half of the US and most of southern Canada. Last time we asked "Why don't any other species of hummingbirds live in the East?" The answer is unknown, but we can make some educated guesses. One possibliity is that the milder climate along the Western Coast favors the development of more hummingbird flowers and a longer flowering season. A second possibility is that the lack of nectar-rich wildflowers in part of the Midwest has kept Western and eastern hummingbirds separate. (In some areas of the Midwest, there are no hummingbirds at all.) Also, the mountains of Mexico, where many hummers live, are part of chains that extend up through western North America; hummers can mosey on up from Mexico to mountainous regions at least somewhat similar to where they spend the winter. Also, to reach the eastern half of the continent, hummers must either migrate a LOT of miles along the Mexican coastline or fly straight over the Gulf of Mexico--a dangerous crossing. We're probably lucky that even ONE hummingbird species manages to do that! Still, look closely to be sure it's a ruby-throat because several of the western species may wander to the East, especially in the fall.

Hightailing It! Discussion of Challenge Question #9

This tiny Costa Rican hummingbird, the Green Thorntail, balances its body to feed by holding its tail up. Photo by Laura Erickson

Last time we asked, "Hummer tail muscles allow the tail to move up, down, straight, or to either side. Explain how each maneuver changes a hummer's flight."

Holding the tail up helps hold a hummer steady when feeding. Pulling it up suddenly can help the hummer slow down or shift its body downward. Pulling the tail down can help it stop suddenly, or shift its balance to suddenly fly up. Pulling the tail to either side can help it steer. Holding the tail straight helps a hummer to have a perfectly streamlined body for the fastest possible forward flight.

Frequent Flyers: Discussion of Challenge Question #10
We asked this question: "A Ruby-throated Hummingbird fattens up in the Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. Then it lights out over the Gulf of Mexico from Campeche. It flies in a straight line to Galveston, Texas. It can't rest or feed while over the Gulf, and it can't soar or glide, so the hummer must beat its wings the whole distance. How many times must the hummingbird flap its wings while crossing the Gulf of Mexico?"

To come up with a reasonable answer, we calculated the distance between Campeche and Galveston as 725 miles, but depending on your map, you may have come up with a slightly different distance. Using our distance, and knowing that hummers fly about 30 miles per hour, we figured that it took the hummer 24.1666 hours to complete the flight. We multiplied this times 75 beats per second times 60 seconds per minute times 60 minutes per hour to get 6,524,999 beats altogether. Any number between 6 and 7 million would be justifiable. No matter what number you got, it represents a LOT of wing beating!

Remember! Help Track the Migration
Report your Hummingbird sightings to Journey North.
We can't track the hummingbird migration without your help! Simply press the Owl Button on any Journey North Web page and a field data form will appear.

1. Report when your Hummingbird feeder is up. As soon as you place your hummingbird feeder outside, report to Journey North. Now you're ready to watch for your first hummers!

2. Report the FIRST Hummingbird you see this spring. Let us know when your Hummingbird safely arrives after its long migration.

If you have any questions, contact us: our feedback form

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 #11 (OR #12).
3. In the body of your message, answer the question.

The Next Hummingbird Migration Update Will Be Posted on May 2, 2002 (data only).

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