HARLINGEN — The ongoing drought is only getting worse, and this year, migrating hummingbirds will find little native vegetation to sustain them as they fly south for the winter.
This year, local birding experts say, it’s essential that humans feed the tiny feathered travelers.
Norma Friedrich, president of the Arroyo Colorado Audubon Society, said that on a recent visit to Central Texas, she saw no native flowering plants on which the hummingbirds would rely as they pass through the state, en route to Mexico and Central America.
The migrating birds will be forced to rely almost entirely on humans for their food, she said. This year, more than ever, the hummingbirds will seek out flowering plants in gardens, as well as feeders in yards, on porches and patios.
The migration should start any day now, she said, and it’s a good time to prepare for the birds’ arrival.
The first to arrive will be the ruby-throated hummingbirds, and an Audubon Society member in Arroyo City already has reported seeing a few there.
The ruby-throats, which spend the summer in New England, the northeastern U.S. and southern Canada, will be followed by black-chinned hummingbirds that travel south from the western United States. Then the Rufous hummingbirds arrive, migrating from the western United States and as far north as Alaska.
The peak of the migration generally is in mid-September, and then it will taper off, Friedrich said.
She also reminds humans who feed any birds of a lesson many birders know: “You attract more birds with water than with seeds.“
A water mister or a lawn sprinkler with a fine spray will attract many kinds of birds. The appreciative hummingbirds will give themswwwwwelves showers by flying through the spray.
Another benefit of feeding hummingbirds is that you’ll be rewarded with annual visits, Friedrich said. Once they find your feeder, they’ll return every year, bringing their offspring with them. And within a few years, there will be generations of migrators visiting the same yards and gardens.
“If you’re feeding annually, and you don’t have the feeder out,“ Friedrich said, “they’ll buzz around waiting for the feeder to reappear.“
The regular and widespread practice of feeding hummingbirds in Rockport resulted in the city’s annual hummingbird celebration, this year marking its 25th anniversary, Sept. 12-15.
Feeding hummingbirds requires a limited amount of paraphernalia, according to several specialized websites.
To begin, you need a hummingbird feeder, sugar, water, measuring cups, and a suitable place to hang the feeder.
For feeder maintenance, you need a couple of brushes to clean the inside of the feeder and the little holes where the birds feed.
Boil water and measure 1 quart into a container. Let the water cool and add 1 cup of white granulated sugar.
Stir or shake until the sugar is dissolved. Refrigerate unused sugar-water.
Pour sugar-water into a hummingbird feeder. At first, fill the feeder with 1 to 2 cups of sugar-water. If the feeder is empty in a day, it means you have hummingbirds feeding from it. Then start filling the feeder to capacity.
At the peak of the migration, you may be filling it daily. If that’s the case, consider hanging a second feeder several feet away from the first one.
When the feeder is empty, wash it thoroughly using a bottle brush to remove any film on the inside of the feeder. Use a small brush to clean the holes where the hummingbirds feed.
Don’t use artificial sweetener, corn syrup or honey. Use only regular granulated sugar.
Don’t use red dye. Some dyes can harm the birds, and it’s unnecessary anyway.
Other useful information from the Arroyo Colorado Audubon Society:
Hang the feeder in a shady location, such as from a tree branch or along the eaves of a porch. Some gardeners hang feeders on shepherd’s hooks staked among flowering shrubs, providing a bird buffet.
It’s important, though, to hang the feeder where it’s easily accessible because you’ll need to regularly remove, wash, refill and rehang it.
To identify hummingbirds that visit your feeder, Friedrich recommends the National Geographic Society bird guides and the Eastern edition of Sibley’s bird guide.
Don’t hang the feeder where it will be accessible to neighborhood cats.
Turn on a lawn sprinkler or a mister. The hummingbirds — and all other birds — need water, especially in the current drought conditions. The hummingbirds will cool themselves when they fly through the spray.
Hummingbirds are especially attracted to red or yellow flowers.
Recommended native plants that attract hummingbirds are:
Sophora, bottle brush, esperanza, pride of Barbados, native Turk’s cap.
Hibiscus, although not a native plant, also attract hummingbirds.
At the end of the migration, you may decide to leave a feeder outside to attract the buff-bellied hummingbirds that live in the Rio Grande Valley year round.