By JIM ABRAMS
To me, seeing a hummingbird is a special gift. Their friendly grace adds both magical and whimsical qualities to any landscape as they dance from flower to perch to flower. Their midair pauses and humming wings always brighten the gloomiest of moods.
Ohio’s native ruby-throated hummingbirds weigh in at less than an ounce and are 3 to 3 ¾ inches long, with a wingspan of 4 to 4 ¾ inches. That makes them one of the smallest of all birds. These avian astonishments can hover, back up, propel themselves up and down, and reach bursts of speed clocked at 60 mph.
The ruby-throat received its name from the adult male’s red throat. Interestingly, this is not a pigmented color. Its appearance is dependent upon the angle of light falling upon the bird. In dim or indirect light the throat may appear black. The hummingbird’s primary food sources are nectar, small insects and spiders they snatch from flowers or catch in midair.
Some believe a lack of food is what triggers the hummingbirds’ fall migration. This causes many to stop feeding the little buzz bombs in early September so that they aren’t artificially delayed in leaving for their winter vacation. Research has proven otherwise.
The hummingbirds’ urge to move south is triggered by the amount of daylight and not dwindling food supplies. Taking down your hummingbird feeders too early can be a problem for birds that have become reliant upon that food source.
Rest assured that it’s not only OK, but it is also wise to leave those feeders filled for up to two weeks after you’ve seen the last hummingbird feeding. This will add that last boost of energy before the sun’s dwindling daylight triggers fall migration and may help feed birds moving through your area during their annual southbound trek.
While not able to fly at supersonic speeds, the birds can maintain airspeeds of approximately 35 mph. This means that they could complete their flight to Mexico or Panama in about a week, but most take approximately two weeks to finish it. Periodic rests, feeding stops and poor weather slow their travels.
When you consider that there’s more than just distance that the miniscule birds need to contend with on their journey, it’s amazing that they even survive. Consider their required flight across the Gulf of Mexico to arrive at their wintering grounds. Unlike waterfowl, these birds aren’t capable of a water landing for a rest.
A nonstop flight is required, and hummingbirds complete it in 18 to 24 hours. Anyone living along either side of the gulf coast should consider maintaining feeders during these spring and autumn travel times for both a departing bird’s final boost of energy and as an arrival’s replenishment.
Ruby-throats are among some of the easiest birds to attract to a feeder, as long as you live in an area that offers other flowery opportunities. A simple mix of 4 parts water to 1 part sugar will encourage these delicate sky dancers into visiting your yard.
“A flash of harmless lightning, A mist of rainbow dyes, The burnished sunbeams brightening From flower to flower he flies.” — John B. Tabb
Along the way:
Interested in helping monarch butterflies and other pollinators? Planting common milkweed is a great place to start! Milkweeds are the host plants for monarch butterfly caterpillars and a great nectar source for many other pollinators.
Fall is a great time to consider sowing seeds of native wildflowers. Some, such as those from common milkweed, need to go through a freeze-thaw cycle in the winter before germinating in the spring. Seeds should be planted in bare ground, covered in one-quarter to one-half inch of soil. Keep debris cleared from the area in the spring and watch for seedlings sprouting up in May and June.
Not ready to plant this fall? Don’t worry, common milkweed can be planted in the early spring, but it will take a bit of prep over the winter. Milkweed seeds must go through a cold stratification process to break the seeds’ natural dormancy process.
To do this, place the seeds in a damp paper towel or sand inside a zipper bag and keep the bag in your refrigerator for three to six weeks, or about 30 days. Make sure to choose a spot where the seeds won’t be smashed or damaged.
Once the 30 days is completed, the seeds can be planted inside and grown until they are ready to be transplanted in the spring, or the seeds can be planted straight into the ground once the risk of frost has passed. Learn more about different types of milkweeds and their importance for monarch butterflies at http://wildlife.ohiodnr.gov/portals/wildlife/pdfs/publications/id%20guides/Milkweeds%26Monarchs.pdf
Finding milkweed seeds to plant is easy. Each fall, organizations and individuals come together to collect hundreds of pounds of milkweed seeds. These seeds are processed and distributed to the public by local Soil and Water Conservation districts in the spring.
Interested in helping collect milkweed pods this fall? Visit the Ohio Pollinator Habitat Initiative website for more information at http://www.ophi.info/
“Habitat for wildlife is continually shrinking — I can at least provide a way station.” — Peter Coyote
• Want to add a little buzz to your yard? Check out these pollinator-friendly trees and shrubs available from the Arbor Day Foundation at https://shop.arborday.org/content.aspx?page=tree-nursery. Consider these for your fall or spring planting: Shoal Creek vitex, fragrant lilac, weeping willow, little gem magnolia, and apple and white dogwood, among many other varieties. Pollinating insects, hummingbirds and many songbirds will benefit from your efforts for generations to come.
• Have you ever wanted to try wild game but just never had the chance? The Division of Wildlife has developed a new wild game “mobile kitchen” that will be used at special events around the state to sample game recipes. It made its debut at the Governor’s Fall Fish Ohio event, where attendees enjoyed tasting wild-caught fish. Visit www.wildlife.ohiodnr.gov for information about hunting, fishing, trapping and wildlife watching as well as finding the next location of the division’s new mobile kitchen.
• Today: Last day to register for the Seneca County Pheasants Forever youth pheasant hunt. For information, contact Don at 567-278-1551 or visit www.senecacountypheasantsforever.org
• Sunday: 50-bird trap shoot, practice at 11 a.m., program at 12:30 p.m., UCOA, 6943 Marion Township 243.
• Thursday and Friday: Trap and skeet, open to the public, 5 p.m., UCOA, 6943 Marion Township 243.
• Oct. 23: Full Draw Film Tour had to be rescheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 23. Doors open 6 p.m., films begin at 7 p.m., Drexel Theater, 2254 E. Main St., Columbus. Call 614-888-4868 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
• Oct. 26-27: Gun show, sponsored by Wyandot County Rod and Gun Club, Master’s Building, Wyandot County Fairgrounds, 10171 Ohio 53, Upper Sandusky. Doors open at 9 a.m.
• Hunter and trapper education class listings: Oct. 21 and 23 — Carey Conservation Club, 2877 Crawford Township 106, Carey; Oct. 21 and 23 — Hardin Northern School (Ag. Room), 11589 Ohio 81, Dola; Nov. 2: Ebenezer Mennonite Church, 8905 Columbus Grove Road, Bluffton; Nov. 18, 19, 20 — Fostoria United Sportsman, 1324 Springville St., Fostoria. Information and registration information available at http://wildlife.ohiodnr.gov
Abrams is a retired wildlife officer supervisor for the state Division of Wildlife in Findlay. He can be reached at P.O. Box 413, Mount Blanchard, OH 45867-0413 or via email at email@example.com