Sure sign of spring, warmer weather is arrival of ruby-throated hummingbird

The author hangs his hummingbird feeder in late April just to make sure when that first migrant comes through, it’s given a warm welcome. (Contributed photo)

For some people, the sight of a robin hopping around in the yard is a sure sign of spring. I don’t believe a robin anymore than I believe the weatherman’s long range forecast. I’ve seen too many robins shivering in snow squalls.

Other species of birds, absent all winter, are better predictors of spring and I revel each April day when I spot a red-winged blackbird, sandhill crane or less hardy species of ducks like woodies or blue-winged teal in wetlands.

But for me, I know I can put my woolies away for several months when the first hummer shows up at my feeder. By hummer I mean the ruby-throated hummingbird, (RTH) the only one of more than 300 species of hummers found in North and South America.

One of the reasons hummingbirds, especially the ruby-throats, are such harbingers of spring is due to their food habits and metabolism. If humans worked as hard as hummers, we’d need about 98,327 calories per day, just to stay alive.

Okay, I made that number up, but for their body size, they require lots and lots of food (calories) and most species, including the ruby-throated, get those calories by sucking nectar from flowering plants. There are darned few flowering plants showing their flowers in late March and early April where I live – even though I regularly see robins and cranes at that time of the year.

A few RTH’s winter in south Florida but most head on south to southern Mexico and beyond. The urge to migrate north sparks their instinct to head north in the spring, but their need to feed keeps them from overflying the “flower-bloom” line.  If you want to find out where that is, check out the updated map at www. hummingbird When I was writing this there were very few reports north of the Mason Dixon Line.

I hang my hummer feeder out in late April just to make sure when that first migrant comes through, it’s given a warm welcome. Most years, it’s a few day either way from May 1st before the first of the season is spotted siphoning my sugar water.

So get out the feeders sooner than later in southern Michigan. In the UP, perhaps you have a few weeks, but even there, when the first RTH shows up, it won’t be long until short pants and flip-flops will be the uniform of the day.

Categories: Michigan – Mike Schoonveld

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