Hummingbirds Keep Texas Gulf Coast Humming

2007 Hummer/Bird Celebration

Sept. 13-16, 2007Hummer/Bird Celebration, Rockport (800-242-0071)

More on this year's festival

A cloud of hummingbirds swarmed the red-tinted feeder. Within seconds, the tiny hummingbirds were under careful scrutiny by thirty pair of eyes, most aided by high-powered binoculars and zoom lenses. Field guides appeared from a number of pockets as the birders sought to confirm the sighting. Soon smiles broke outl. The trip to Rockport, Texas was a success.

This scene is repeated time and time again during the fall hummingbird migration through Texas' Coastal Bend. From late August through September, thousands of tiny hummers from as far as Canada use Rockport and other nearby coastal communities as filling stations. They stop and refuel before the arduous, non-stop journey over the Gulf of Mexico on their way to warmer climes in Mexico and Central and South America.

During the fall migration, bird lovers come to see the hummingbirds, an annual pilgrimage which has become a festival -- the Hummer/Bird Celebration. The Coastal Bend Audubon Society together with the neighboring communities of Rockport and Fulton have come together to host the four day even.

"Bird watching is becoming the fastest growing sport in the United States," acknowledges Jesse Grantham, former director of Audubon sanctuaries in Texas and a driving force behind the festival. The event help turns would-be birders into knowledgeable watchers. The Celebration features headline speakers, including one who will bring live hummingbirds and talk about rescuing, raising and releasing hummingbirds. Other speakers will discuss hummingbird identification, landscaping for hummingbirds, bird banding, and nesting birds.

But the high points of the festival are the Audubon-guided bus tours with stops at private homes and fishing camps, some sites with 10 or more feeders. Buzzing like huge bees, the hummers congregate in swarms of as many as 100-200 birds. "It's a spectacular natural phenomenon you really should see and witness," says Grantham, who has guided festival bus tours to several birding sites.

Although the Hummer/Bird Celebration recognizes all of Rockport's feathered friends (over 500 species are on record), it's the tiny hummer who steals the show. In recent years, the city has made a concerted effort to attract the hummers. Citizens have planted bushes and vines to attract the migrators to backyard habitats, and residents all along the Coastal Bend have taken on the Herculean task of maintaining feeders filled with sugar water.

During their stop in Rockport, the hummers are in a feeding frenzy, and it's not uncommon for the feeders to be replenished every few hours. The hummingbird's nutritional needs are massive; if a person had the same metabolism as a hummingbird, he would need to consume 155,000 calories and drink 100 gallons of water per day! Without the water consumption, the hummer's body temperature (if he could survive) would soar to an incredible 700 degrees due to his 60-70 wing beats per second.

The hummers are fast-moving, but because of the large number in Rockport during migration, they're easy to spot. Rockport is located on the Central Flyway, a bird highway which brings migrators from Canada, through Montana, and over the Central states on their way to Mexico. Rockport also receives a few strays from the Mississippi Flyway, a combination which makes the area a hummer hotspot.

There are over 300 species of hummers on record, but they are found only the the New World: the Americas and the Caribbean. An amazing 160 species of hummingbirds live in the jungles of Ecuador, but the variety diminishes greatly when you travel even 10 degrees from the Equator. In all, 13 species nest in the United States.

Five species pass through the Coastal Bend: the ruby-throated, rufous, broad-tailed, black-chinned, and buff-bellied. The most common hummingbird seen in Texas, and the only one found east of the Mississippi, is the ruby-throated. Distinguished by the male's brilliant red throat and metallic green head, the 3-1/2 inch bird is seen at most feeders in Rockport. In fact, there are about five ruby-throated for every one rufous, a hummer with a reddish back who commonly lives in western Washington state and Canada. Very similar to the ruby-throated is the black-chinned, a hummer from the western mountains with a black throat and purple stripe separating its throat and chest. Another mountain lover, the broad-tailed hummingbird is distinguished by its wide tail and the shrill whistle made by its flight. Finally, the rare buff-bellied has a bright orange bill and slightly larger size as well as a slower wing beat to help identify it.

The ancient people of Mexico once attributed magical powers to the hummingbird or "sunbeam bird." According to legend, Montezuma used the iridescent feathers for his robe. Whether or not these tiny bundles of energy have magic, one thing's for sure. The hummingbird has definitely cast its spell over the residents and visitors of Rockport, Texas. Texas Travel Guide on Facebook

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