Column: The wonder of hummingbird migration
Originally Published: August 27, 2009 10 p.m.
Hummingbird migration is underway right now, with hummingbird numbers peaking at backyard feeders as they stop to refuel before continuing on. Many people think of hummingbirds as being fragile because they are so small, but in reality they are anything but fragile. Most of the hummingbirds that occur in our area weigh somewhere between three and four grams! In North America, our smallest hummingbird is the Calliope Hummingbird, weighing in it at just 2.7 grams. Since there are 27 grams in one ounce, you could mail 10 Calliope Hummingbirds with one first-class stamp. Of course, I don't know why you would want to do that, as the hummingbirds could fly to the desired destination faster than the letter could get there!In-depth studies of hummingbirds have resulted in the discovery of many interesting facts about their behavior. For example, on average, hummingbirds flap their wings approximately 60 beats per second. During migration, when a hummingbird is flying continuously, it will flap its wings approximately 3,600 beats per minute, or 216,000 beats per hour!Additionally, average speed for a hummingbird flying under normal conditions (not displaying, such as in courtship behavior) is between 25 to 30 miles per hour. Hummingbirds are capable of flying much faster, but their typical sustained speed is much lower.Now, think about a hummingbird that is migrating hundreds of miles, or perhaps even thousands of miles. To illustrate the amount of work involved in migrating, let us use an example of a hummingbird that is migrating 1,000 miles. A hummingbird flying 1,000 miles at 25 mph hour will travel for 40 hours. Forty hours of flight at 216,000 wing beats per hour equates to 8,640,000 wing beats to get to its destination - and some hummingbirds migrate much further than a thousand miles! When I walk, I have a five-foot pace. If I were to compare my pace with the wing beat of a hummingbird, if I walked 8,640,000 paces, I would travel a distance of approximately 8,420 miles. Obviously, I could not do this in 40 hours! There are four common hummingbird species that migrate through the Prescott area: Anna's, black-chinned, broad-tailed and rufous. Other hummingbird species that pass through this area seasonally, but are not nearly as common, are Calliope and Costa's hummingbirds.Of the four common species that occur here, Anna's migrate the shortest distance, followed by Black-chinned, then Broad-tailed, then rufous. Rufous hummingbirds are considered to be the world's longest migrator based on body length. If you divide the body length of a rufous hummingbird (3.75 inches) into the distance it travels (as far as 3,000 miles), it is the world's longest migrator. As you provide sugar water for hummingbirds, you are helping fuel their migration. Studies have shown that in preparation for migration, hummingbirds will increase their body fat by as much as 20 percent. This additional fat is burned off as they fly long distances with sustained flight. Individuals who provide multiple hummingbird feeders are obviously likely to experience much higher numbers of hummingbirds in their yard. Additionally, people whose homes are situated on hilltops and ridge lines experience much higher hummingbird activity. Certainly there are always exceptions to the rule of thumb, but one thing is for sure, if you provide a hummingbird feeder, the hummingbirds will come.If you make your own sugar water solution, the proper recipe is a ratio of four parts water to one part sugar, and it is not necessary to add any red coloring. It is recommended that you boil the solution briefly and allow it to cool before filling your feeders. Happy Birding! Eric M. Moore is the owner of Jay's Bird Barn, located at 1046 Willow Creek Road in Prescott. Eric has been an avid birder for over 40 years. If you have specific questions or issues related to wild birds that you would like discussed in future articles, e-mail Eric at Eric@JaysBirdBarn.com.