Yesterday morning our first hummingbird of the season showed up in our yard. It was a bit earlier than I was expecting it to be; I wasn’t really thinking of looking for them till next week, and as such the feeders weren’t out yet. In fact, the feeders weren’t even out of storage. As soon as Dan called downstairs that he’d spotted a hummer in the yard, I dug our two feeders out of the cupboards, washed and rinsed them out, and then made up some sugar-water to fill them with. I hung them out, one at each end of the deck, and waited.
It didn’t take long for the little bird to find it. Within half an hour I spotted him coming to the feeder, and he returned at regular intervals throughout the day. Unfortunately, it was somewhat overcast, so the colours in the photos are muted. At one point, Dan saw another male come in, which the first chased away from the feeder, and a bit later I thought I might have heard him displaying somewhere. Seems like they suddenly arrived all in one big push.
Hummingbirds are daytime migrants. A large part of this is because they need to feed as they travel. Hummingbirds are so small and their method of flight so energetically costly they can’t store much fat and still expect to be able to fly efficiently. For most of the migration they build up their energy stores during the morning, and migrate throughout the afternoon, pausing periodically along the way to refuel. The exception to this is the big Gulf of Mexico jump, which is about 20 hours of straight flying without food, and so they lay on as much fat as they can while still being able to fly.
These hummingbirds are probably all migrants, just passing through. Indeed, I don’t think I saw one all afternoon today. Probably the individuals we saw yesterday arrived late Monday, and possibly hung around all day yesterday. They visited the feeders this morning as they fueled up, and then moved on by the afternoon. Alternatively, it may have been two separate individuals, one that arrived Monday and departed yesterday, and another that arrived yesterday and departed this morning.
There is very little information to connect hummingbirds to particular wintering grounds. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds winter from the tip of Florida all the way south to Panama, but it’s not clear whether northern breeders also winter further north (or further south), or if there is no correlation and they just mix it up. Regardless, all of these birds need to move north again in spring. Hummingbirds that winter in southern Mexico or further south are faced with crossing the gaping expanse of the Gulf of Mexico. It takes them 20 hours of non-stop flying to do so, barring inclement weather or strong headwinds, and they reach the far side understandably exhausted. Many may never make it. So why do they do it? Because it’s considerably faster than going overland around the gulf, and the bird that reaches the breeding territories first gets first dibs. If he can secure the best quality territory, he significantly improves his chances of successfully raising young that year.
We may not see our breeders arrive for a little bit yet, but it’s nice to have these charming little sprites coming to our feeders again.