Hummingbirds Keep Texas Gulf Coast Humming
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.
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.
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
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.
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