MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

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March 21, 2014

COLUMN: Hummingbird watching can provide a service

This week, I found a hummingbird flag hanging over the front porch which means those ruby-throated gems — the hummingbirds — won’t be far behind.

Next thing I know, my wife is rummaging through my mancave for a spray can of bright red paint.

The combination of the summer sun and the bitter cold of winter were a little hard on the finish of the family hummingbird feeder.

Residents can participate in Oklahoma Department of Wildlife’s Hummingbird Survey for 2014. The survey is located online at http://www.wildlifedepartment.com/wildlifemgmt/citizen_science.htm.

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.

The biologists ask that you put up your hummingbird feeder by April 1 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. The survey requests information concerning your bird feeder as well as plant 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.

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 18, there were multiple sightings in North Texas and Central Arkansas but none yet in our state.  In 2013, the first sightings in Oklahoma were made on March 29, according to this survey.

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

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 and these small birds have gorgeous iridescent feathers.

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

This hyperactive bird weighs an average of 1/10th of an ounce (3-4 grams). A flashing, colorful beauty, this bird can hover and fly backwards. Its feet are used for perching only and are not used for hopping or walking. Its name comes from the fact it flaps 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.

Hummingbirds can take tree sap from woodpecker drillings and sugar water from feeders.

 The long and tapered bill they possess is used to obtain nectar from the center of long, tubular flowers.

They must consume over half their weight in sugars each day to fuel its high metabolism.

Bird watchers should feed hummingbirds a mixture of sugar and water. Mix one-fourth cup of sugar with one cup of water or 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.

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

Biologists suggest 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.

Check out www.birdwatchersdigest.com for quizzes, identification help, and everything you need to record the action at your hummingbird feeder.

Finally, www.rubythroat.org has quizzes, coloring sheets 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.

This hummingbird season ought to be a humdinger.

John Kilgore’s outdoor column runs Fridays in the Phoenix. Reach him with news or comments at (918) 348-9431 or jkilgoreoutdoors@yahoo.com.

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