Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Mark of Spring: Hummers Returning to Georgia

If you haven’t already done so, hang up your feeders! Ruby-throated hummingbirds and other avian migrants are returning to Georgia from wintering grounds far to the south. Ruby-throated “hummers” may travel more than 1,200 miles from Central America to Georgia.

One showed up last week at the Forsyth office of the Wildlife Resources Division’s Nongame Conservation Section. “They’re just arriving,” said Jim Ozier, a nongame program manager. “The first ones started showing up in middle Georgia about 10 days ago.”

Following the grueling migration, this diminutive bird must seek out about half its weight in food every day. Typical body weight of a ruby-throated hummingbird is 3 to 3.4 grams. To maintain their high metabolism, hummingbirds feed frequently on high-energy food sources such as rich but easily digested nectar and the tree sap that collects in yellow-bellied sapsucker foraging holes. Hummingbirds also need protein. They obtain it by eating tiny spiders and small, soft-bodied insects found on flowers or in sapsucker holes in trees.

Hummingbird enthusiasts can provide food for these travel-weary visitors by planting coral honeysuckle, columbine, bee balm and other flowering plants. Native plants are recommended because they need minimal care and are compatible with local ecosystems.

The Nongame Conservation Section is offering free packets of native wildflower seeds mixed to attract nectar-feeders. The packets were purchased through a grant from The Environmental Resources Network, or TERN, the friends group of the Nongame Conservation Section.

Hummingbird feeders also provide an important food source. Refill feeders every few days with a mix of one part sugar to four parts water. For best results, bring the water to a boil before adding the sugar and then continue to boil three to four minutes. Allow the mixture to cool before filling the feeder. Refrigerate unused portions.

Periodically clean feeders, making sure that all molds and bacteria are removed. But do not use harsh cleaning agents. Feeders can be easily cleaned in dishwasher or with mild soap and warm water.

Using feeders and planting nectar-producing flowers is the best recipe for attracting hummingbirds. For plantings, incorporate flowers that bloom from early spring through fall. Flower gardens will also attract a variety of other enjoyable nectar-feeders, such as butterflies.

Occasionally, “lost” migrant hummingbirds of several species not considered native to the region are seen at feeders during the winter, so many enthusiasts leave their feeders up throughout the year. To report unusual hummingbirds, please contact the Nongame Conservation Section at (478) 994-1438. Information sheets on Georgia’s hummingbirds are available at (click “Conservation,” then “Georgia Animals & Plants”).

To receive a seeds packet, send a first-class, self-addressed, stamped envelope (No. 10 letter-sized) to: Nectar-feeder Native Wildflower Seed Packet, DNR/WRD Nongame Conservation Section, 116 Rum Creek Drive, Forsyth, Ga. 31029. One packet per customer, please.

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