by Eileen Berger Indian Trail Master Naturalist
I first became aware of hummingbirds after my parents moved from Ft. Worth to Pecan Plantation which is on the Brazos River near Granbury. They had a small deck which ran along the front of their multilevel home on a wooded acre lot. While we were visiting the first summer they lived there, we were fascinated by the profusion of tiny hummingbirds that were visiting several feeders my parents had hanging from the roof overhang. My mother explained that she cooked batches of sugar water several times a week, and sometimes had to refill the feeders daily. We could not count the birds but estimated that there were about 25-30 at the times we visited.
After that first sighting of hummingbirds, on returning home I had to go out and purchase a feeder. I followed my mother’s instructions to mix 1 cup of sugar to 4 cups of water and boil just until the sugar had melted into the water, cool, and fill the feeder. She stressed that it is not necessary to add any color to the liquid, as the birds will see the feeder base which is red. I stored the remaining juice in the refrigerator in a quart jar. I anxiously installed the feeder on the hook overhanging the window of my kitchen, and waited for the first bird to arrive. And waited, and waited. That first year, I did not see any hummingbirds. Yes, I was disappointed. Later, my parents assured me that I had done everything correctly but that the birds were either not there, or had plenty to eat without needing supplemental feeders.
My Birds of Texas by Roger Tory Peterson indicates that the hummingbird is the smallest of all birds. Of the 18 varieties in North America, about 9 occur in Texas, with a possible 4 to 6 accidentals. I mostly see the Ruby-Throated hummingbird Archilochus colubris. From 3 to 3 ½ inches long, they are an iridescent green above, and the male has a glowing red throat and black forked tail, while the female has a white throat and rounded white-tipped tail. Their voice is the hum that gives them their name, but also a high pitched-sound characterized as mouse-like and petulant. Ruby-throats are found from southern Canada south to the Gulf States. They winter in Central America, although some are seen in Brownsville. They breed in north, east and central Texas. In Texas they are migrant from March to May and September to December through the eastern two-thirds of the state west to the Pecos River and the Panhandle. They eat with their long tongue by sucking nectar from flowers. They can also eat aphids and small insects. My hummingbirds like the red native Turks cap, and purple morning glories that I planted along my fence.
I since have become more philosophical about the appearance or non-appearance of the birds. It seems that some years we have more customers at our feeders than other years. I usually try to get at least one feeder up by mid-March, and if there are too many fighting over that one, I will increase the number. At this writing I have six feeders on different sites all around the outside of my house. Because they are migrating in the spring and fall, there may be more at those times than in the summer. In the autumn, I usually take down my feeders at the end of October. After washing them thoroughly and making sure they are dry, I put them away and look forward to the arrival of the beautiful little hummers in the spring.