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March 21, 2013

COLUMN: This state survey is set to get you humming

Around our house, one way a person knows the changing of the seasons is to check out which flag my wife has placed on the front porch.

Earlier this week, she made a trip to Lowe's and came back with a hummingbird flag. Next, she was in my hallowed domain — the shed — to search for a can of red spray paint with which to spruce up the family's faded hummingbird feeder.

You can participate in Oklahoma Department of Wildlife's Hummingbird Survey for 2013. The survey is located online at http://www.wildlifedepartment.com/wildlifemgmt/citizen_science.htm.

The biologists ask that you put up your hummingbird feeder by April 1st and leave it up until early November. Record the actual date you see the first and the last hummingbird of the season as well as which variety you see.

Most in our area of Oklahoma are the ruby-throated variety. In western Oklahoma, they also have the black-chinned hummingbird.

In 2011, the earliest reported ruby-throated hummingbird was sighted on March 31 in Stephens County. The latest sighting was reported on Nov. 3 in Cleveland County.

In Muskogee County, the earliest sighting was April 4 and latest was Oct. 9.

The survey will want information concerning your bird feeder as well as plants attractants in your yard.

Some plants help attract the hummingbirds. The ones listed in last year's survey include Red Honeysuckle, Salvis sp., Petunias, Lantana sp., Cannas, Morning Glory and Rose of Sharon.

You may save and email your results to the department using the address mhickman@zoo.odwc.state.ok.us or print out the survey and mail it to Hummingbird Survey, Wildlife Diversity Program, P.O. Box 53465, Oklahoma City 73152.

Hummingbirds belong to a group of birds called neotropical migrants - birds that winter from northern Mexico to the tip of South America and migrate to North America to breed.

Scientists in North and South America have initiated a partnership for the conservation of neotropical migrants called Partners in light/Aves de las Americanas.

Efforts on behalf of neotropical migrants are currently focused on habitat preservation and restoration, monitoring of wintering and breeding populations and promotion and public awareness.

Hummingbirds can be seen state-wide in the summer in Oklahoma. These small birds have iridescent feathers.

The ruby-throated gem weighs an average of 1/10th of an ounce (3-4 grams). This flashing, colorful beauty can hover and fly backwards. It's feet are used for perching only and are not used for hopping or walking.

Their name comes from the fact that they flap their wings so fast (about 80 times per second) that they make a humming noise. They are also able to hover by flapping their wings in a figure-8 pattern.

Hummingbirds, with a voice like a twittering mouse squeak, have an enviable metabolic rate. The rate at which they use calories is the highest of any warm-blooded vertebrate except the shrew.

The hummingbird builds its nest about 10-20 feet above ground in the fork of a tree. The nest, no bigger than the shell of a walnut, is usually woven of plant down and held together by spider silk and lichens. There are usually two white eggs about the size of navy beans laid.

In addition to spiders, hummingbirds can take tree sap from woodpecker drillings and sugar water from feeders.

Hummingbirds possess a long and tapered bill that is used to obtain nectar from the center of long, tubular flowers.

This hyper bird must consume over half its weight in sugars each day to fuel its high metabolism.

Residents should feed hummingbirds a mixture of sugar and water. Mix one-fourth cup of sugar with one cup of water. One part sugar to four parts water.

Bring the water to a boil, then remove the mixture from the heat. You may have to stir the mixture to dissolve the sugar. Do not use honey or sugar substitutes.

Food coloring is neither required nor desirable. Usually the commercially purchased feeders are red enough themselves to attract the ruby-throats.

Biologist suggests placing feeders in the shade outside a favorite window for observation, even hanging a scarlet ribbon or piece of crimson fabric near the feeder to signal your hummer eatery is open for business.

Another online survey that produces immediate information is located at www.hummingbirds.net. You can see a migration map and report the first sighting in your area.

As of March 17-19, there were multiple sightings in North Texas but none in Oklahoma.

In 2012, the website had sightings in Oklahoma after March 21.

An additional informational site is  www.hummingbirdsociety.org . This society is based in Sedona, Ariz. and even boasts an August gala in celebration of this fascinating creature.

Finally, www.rubythroat.org has quizzes and puzzles about this bird in case the kids or grandkids are needing a few extra things to do these last few days of spring break.

John Kilgore's outdoor column runs Fridays in the Phoenix. You may contact him with news or other information at (918) 348-9431 or at jkilgoreoutdoors@yahoo.com

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