For the Birds: Last looks at hummingbirds

Photo by Chris Bosak A Ruby-throated Hummingbird sips nectar from Canna flower in Danbury, Conn., summer 2016.
Photo by Chris Bosak
A Ruby-throated Hummingbird sips nectar from Canna flower in Danbury, Conn., summer 2016.

I almost hate to say it but summer 2019 is nearly over.

I say “almost” because fall is up next and who doesn’t love a New England fall? In the bird world, it’s pretty much fall already, so really the calendar is the only thing standing in the way of autumn.

With that said, this seems like an appropriate time to reflect on this past summer. I had several birding and other nature highlights, most notably a camping trip to Pillsbury State Park in nearby Washington.

I was lucky enough while canoeing to share the main pond with three loons bright and early one morning. No matter how many times I experience it, I will always be in awe of the scene: sun peaking above the hills in the east, mist rising off the water and loons starting their day with a slow swim around their pond. A yodel or two from the loons completes the scene.

Such was the case at Pillsbury this summer, only instead of the usual one or two loons, there were three. It’s easy to see why the common loon is such an iconic bird in New England.

The bald eagles at Bashakill National Wildlife Refuge in N.Y. were another highlight.

The backyard highlight of the summer, echoing the highlight of the past few summers, was watching the hummingbird family that split their time between the feeders and flowers. This year, I had salvia, fuschia, sunflowers and rose-of-Sharon to offer. They enjoyed them all.

But mostly they drank from the feeders, as usual. I had to put three feeders out this year to mitigate the bickering among the tiny birds.

Recently, however, the visits by hummingbirds have slowed and it is not because of the wasps and black ants that try to take over the feeders. It’s because hummingbirds migrate in late August and early September. The adult males take off for points south first, followed by the females and first-year birds. I still see hummingbirds at the feeders, but the frequency has fallen and the birds are likely not “my” hummingbirds, but rather other south-bound migrants.

Which brings up the age-old question: Is it OK to feed hummingbirds in the fall or will they stick around and migrate too late if food is available? Studies have shown that hummingbirds are triggered to move south by the shortening of the days, not the weather or availability of food. In fact, an argument may be made that it’s beneficial to continue to feed them as these tiny birds essentially have to double their weight as they make their journey to Mexico and Central America.

The vast majority of the hummingbirds will be gone by the end of the month. By then, even the calendar will have yielded and fall will have its run of New England.

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