Millions of migrating birds fill spring skies--shorebirds, warblers, vireos, flycatchers, thrushes, tanagers--and among the masses fly those tiny jewels of the air we call hummingbirds.
In April and May, birds stream north. Some wintered as far away as Brazil and Argentina. Now instinct drives them relentlessly north. Breeding grounds beckon, each bird supercharged, racing for the best nest site and the strongest mate. This year's seemingly everlasting winter slowed the race, but birds show little restraint.
By early May, though, "our" birds arrive, those that visit our feeders repeatedly, sipping sugar-charged energy to supplement the bug-protein diet. They're the ones that nest here.
Be warned, however. Don't expect droves of hummers early on. Not until females produce their first broods in late June will numbers at the feeders increase. And not until females produce their second broods in mid-August will feeder activity skyrocket.
By then, northern breeders, restricted by flight distance to only one brood, begin trickling back through here, joining local broods at feeders. Local males, having completed their breeding business, leave; males we see later come from the north.
Next, local females, having finished their family ways, fatten up and leave.
What remains are the hatch-year birds and all the northerly migrants. By the first and second weeks of September, swarms reach their peak. Shortly after peak, the masses leave. By mid-October, only stragglers remain.
Thus, when you see few birds at feeders early on, relax. It's the natural process.
To make sure hummers fare well, both on their stopovers here and during breeding season, offer the best nectar you can. Chances are "best" translates into "mix your own." Use one part sugar to four parts water. Stir well. Syrup stays fresh longer if it's boiled (microwaving makes the process fast), cooled, and served. But when feeders get busy and go empty in a day or so, boiling isn't necessary.
Omit red dye. Avoid commercial nectars that contain red dye. Hummingbird banders have found tumors on bills and livers of hummers known to have fed on nectar with red-dye additives. Some authorities claim red dye also affects reproduction. Why take the risk when the dye isn't necessary?
In addition, nectar needs no additives. Save added vitamins and minerals for you, your kids and grandkids; additives in hummer nectar serve only to attract gullible humans, not hummers. Give hummers the natural, pure stuff--sugar.
And speaking of sugar, cane sugar is preferable to beet. If the bag doesn't say "cane," then it isn't. Chemically, cane sugar most closely resembles natural flower nectar.
Avoid sweeteners, honey, molasses, raw sugar, or any other quirky product. This isn't complicated. Use sugar and water. Period. Keep feeders clean and fresh.
To read more, including a dozen do's and don'ts about caring for hummingbirds, click on Articles among the buttons across the top of this page, then "Hummingbird Special."
Enjoy the little jewels.